Wingfield, Joy, Bissell, Paul and Anderson, Claire (2004) The Scope of pharmacy ethics—an evaluation of the international research literature, 1990–2002. Social Science and Medicine, 58 (12). pp. 2383-2396. ISSN 0277-9536

This paper attempts to provide a critical overview of international published discourse relating to ethical issues in pharmacy practice from 1990 to 2002. We found that there is little research literature specifically addressing ethics in pharmacy practice and almost none addressing fundamental philosophical issues or values for pharmacy ethics. There is no dedicated journal for pharmacy ethics. Most material relating to pharmacy ethics is articulated as codes or pronouncements from professional bodies, as opinion or reflection in textbooks and in debate such as letters and articles. However, this should not be taken to mean that pharmacy and ethics are strangers; simply that such matters are not frequently analysed in published pharmacy literature. The presumption is usually that most matters of pharmacy ethics are very familiar and require no exploration or explanation.

Where the research literature does target ethical issues, the most common method is to employ “the scenario approach”. This term describes the technique of using a vignette or scenario from actual pharmacy practice and then exploring a variety of possible options to identify one or more defensible solutions. The vast majority of scenarios related to the delivery of healthcare per se; rather fewer derived from delivery of healthcare in a commercial environment. One notable exception to this approach is the body of work by Latif and colleagues on moral reasoning and community pharmacy practice.

Our review suggests there is a need for the knowledge base in pharmacy ethics to be systematised and integrated into the wider scheme of general healthcare ethics. The principal areas in which research is needed include, how best to teach and assess “ethical competence” before practice; how to develop and update this competence in practising pharmacists; and how the business environment, particularly where there are corporate values and reward systems in operation, affects ethical competence. In addition, general research in pharmacy practice may benefit from a greater awareness and enquiry as to the ethical issues raised by the projects being undertaken.

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