J Med Ethics 38:579-586 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100240
  • Feature article

Three arguments against prescription requirements

Editor's Choice
  1. Jessica Flanigan
  1. Correspondence to Jessica Flanigan, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, USA; jessica.flanigan{at}
  1. Contributors Jessica Flanigan wrote this essay.

  • Received 15 September 2011
  • Revised 8 March 2012
  • Accepted 16 March 2012
  • Published Online First 26 July 2012


In this essay, I argue that prescription drug laws violate patients' rights to self-medication. Patients have rights to self-medication for the same reasons they have rights to refuse medical treatment according to the doctrine of informed consent (DIC). Since we should accept the DIC, we ought to reject paternalistic prohibitions of prescription drugs and respect the right of self-medication. In section 1, I frame the puzzle of self-medication; why don't the same considerations that tell in favour of informed consent also justify a right of self-medication? In section 2, I show that the prescription drug system was historically motivated by paternalism. In section 3, I outline the justifications for the DIC in more detail. I show that consequentialist, epistemic, and deontic considerations justify the DIC. In sections 4–6, I argue that these considerations also justify rights of self-medication. I then propose that rights of self-medication require non-prohibitive prescription policies in section 7. I consider two objections in sections 8 and 9: that patients ought not to make medically risky or deadly decisions, and that unrestricted access to prescription-grade pharmaceuticals would result in widespread misuse and abuse. Section 10 concludes.


  • Linked article Yes.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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