Background and methodology Community pharmacists' role in the sale and supply of emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) represents an opportunity to increase EHC availability and utilise pharmacists' expertise but little is known about pharmacists' attendant ethical concerns. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were undertaken with 23 UK pharmacists to explore their views and ethical concerns about EHC.
Results Dispensing EHC was ethically acceptable for almost all pharmacists but beliefs about selling EHC revealed three categories: pharmacists who sold EHC, respected women's autonomy and peers' conscientious objection but feared the consequences of limited EHC availability; contingently selling pharmacists who believed doctors should be first choice for EHC supply but who occasionally supplied and were influenced by women's ages, affluence and genuineness; non-selling pharmacists who believed EHC was abortion and who found selling EHC distressing and ethically problematic. Terminological/factual misunderstandings about EHC were common and discussing ethical issues was difficult for most pharmacists. Religion informed non-selling pharmacists' ethical decisions but other pharmacists prioritised professional responsibilities over their religion.
Discussion and conclusions Pharmacists' ethical views on EHC and the influence of religion varied and, together with some pharmacists' reliance upon non-clinical factors, led to a potentially variable supply, which may threaten the prompt availability of EHC. Misunderstandings about EHC perpetuated lay beliefs and potentially threatened correct advice. The influence of subordination and non-selling pharmacists' dispensing EHC may also lead to variable supply and confusion amongst women. Training is needed to address both factual/terminological misunderstandings about EHC and to develop pharmacists' ethical understanding and responsibility.
- emergency contraception
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