Dispensing with liberty: Conscientious refusal and the "morning-after pill"

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 30 (6):579 – 592 (2005)


Citing grounds of conscience, pharmacists are increasingly refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, or the "morning-after pill." Whether correctly or not, these pharmacists believe that emergency contraception either constitutes the destruction of post-conception human life, or poses a significant risk of such destruction. We argue that the liberty of conscientious refusal grounds a strong moral claim, one that cannot be defeated solely by consideration of the interests of those seeking medication. We examine, and find lacking, five arguments for requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions. However, we argue that in their professional context, pharmacists benefit from liberty restrictions on those seeking medication. What would otherwise amount to very strong claims can be defeated if they rest on some prior restriction of the liberty of others. We conclude that the issue of what policy should require pharmacists to do must be settled by way of a theory of second best. Asking "What is second best?" rather than "What is best?" offers a way to navigate the liberty restrictions that may be fixed obstacles to optimality.

Download options


    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,856

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

80 (#148,462)

6 months
1 (#386,040)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Loren Lomasky
University of Virginia

References found in this work

Active and Passive Euthanasia.James Rachels - 1975 - In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Exploring Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. Oxford University Press.
In Harm's Way: AMA Physicians and the Duty to Treat.Chalmers C. Clark - 2005 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 30 (1):65 – 87.
The General Theory of Second Best.R. G. Lipsey & Kelvin Lancaster - 1956 - Review of Economic Studies 24 (1):11-32.

Add more references

Similar books and articles

Conscientious Refusal and a Doctors's Right to Quit.John K. Davis - 2004 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 29 (1):75 – 91.
Pharmacies, Pharmacists, and Conscientious Objection.Mark R. Wicclair - 2006 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 16 (3):225-250.
Conscientious Objection and Emergency Contraception.Robert F. Card - 2007 - American Journal of Bioethics 7 (6):8 – 14.
The Morning–After Pill.Anne Williams - 2010 - Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics 13 (1):8-36.
Emergency Contraception and Conscientious Objection.J. Paul Kelleher - 2010 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 27 (3):290-304.