Interview: Ever Seeking A Clearer Conscience
How a Catholic pharmacist followed his convictions and stopped
Reproduced with permission
Author's note: A
previous essay described several local businesses
which have a positive impact on their respective
communities. One of those businesses, Kay pharmacy,
made a major change in its business policy. Mike
Koelzer, president and co-owner of the pharmacy,
personally undertook the change. I explored the
issue with Mike in the following interview.
A. Cyrenian: Mike, you have recently
undertaken something next to unheard-of in the
pharmacy business, can you tell us first just what
changes you made?
Mike Koelzer: In February 2002, our
pharmacy stopped dispensing all contraceptives.
AC: What drove you to make these changes?
MK: It came down to God's teaching through
the Catholic Church on the sanctity of all human
life and on contraception. The Church teaches that
all contraception is intrinsically evil. But there
is yet a further problem with hormonal
contraceptives in how they work, which is sometimes
killing a newly formed life.
AC: I assume most people would be
surprised at your last statement.
MK: The easiest way for me to explain this
mechanism of hormonal contraceptives is by quoting
directly from a package insert from a box of oral
"Combination oral contraceptives act by
suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary
mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation,
other alterations include changes in the cervical
mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entry
into the uterus) and endometrium (which reduces the
likelihood of implantation)."
It is the third mechanism of action (the
alteration in the endometrium which reduces the
likelihood of implantation), which can kill a newly
formed member of the human family by not allowing
the new life to attach to the mother's uterus.
AC: How did you go about making this
MK: One decision I had to make was whether
to stop selling contraceptives completely or
continue to sell them only to customers who were
using them for non-contraceptive reasons with no
chance of conceiving. This seemed to be about 10-15%
of my customers who were taking contraceptives.
After many months of prayer and thought, I decided
to discontinue the sale of all contraceptives
completely. I decided a monthly interrogation of
each customer was too much for the customers and my
employees to go through. An OB/GYN physician friend
of mine said that if the FDA pulled all of the
contraceptives off of the market, it would not
bother him a bit: he would still have plenty of
drugs to treat those conditions for which doctors
often use contraceptives.
Next, I had to get a clear picture of just what I
thought God wanted me to accomplish. I had many
options here. I could have chosen to convince
everyone to be pro-life, I could have chosen to try
to get every customer to agree with my decision, I
could have chosen to teach every customer about the
beauty of natural law, I could have chosen to
convince everyone about the infallibility of the
Catholic Church when it teaches on morality, but
what I found I really needed to do was to stop
selling the contraceptives. That needed to be my
primary goal and so I approached all of my
communication to my staff and customers this way.
My first step was then to let my employees know
about the new policy. I did this in a
straightforward letter to all of my employees that
told them we would be stopping the sale of all
contraceptives. Staying close to my focus, I did not
go into reasons in the letter but welcomed any
questions they may have regarding the new policy.
A few weeks later I sent a similar letter to all
of our customers who had received contraceptives in
the last few months.
AC: What kind of reaction are you getting
from your employees and customers?
MK: The reactions have been mixed. Some of
my employees couldn't believe I was doing this.
Customers' reactions were mixed. Many disagreed with
my belief, but respected my decision to stand up for
something I believed in this strongly.
AC: So you are also getting positive
MK: The negative reactions definitely
outweighed the positive, but I think it is that way
most of the time when you run a business; you hear
more criticism than praise. I did get a nice card
from a customer and some supportive comments from
some of my customers and staff. What really keeps me
going, though, is knowing that I am trying to do
what is right.
AC: Based on previous conversations, this
change was a long time in the making. Can you tell
us about the process you went through?
About five years ago, I was made aware of how
contraceptives work: in some cases killing newly
formed life by not allowing it to attach to the
mother's uterus. I can't remember ever learning
about this in pharmacy school five years earlier, if
I had, I wasn't impressed with the significance of
it at the time.
When I first realized this was one of the
mechanisms of action of the drug, I was not in a
position to make a policy change at the pharmacy to
stop selling contraceptives, so I spent the next
five years in daily prayer asking God to give me
direction on what He wanted me to do.
After five years I thought I finally received an
answer. It seemed God was asking me to take His hand
and jump: I had to stop selling contraceptives one
way or another. After bringing up the proposed
change once again in the business, the decision was
made to go ahead with the policy change.
AC: Is there anywhere in particular where
you went to acquire pertinent information (groups,
web sites, church documents, etc.)?
MK: Probably the most influential reading
I did was directly from the Catholic Church. The
Catechism and the encyclicals, namely Humanae Vitae
and Evangelium Vitae. Also very important to me was
some close friends; friends that not only supported
me but challenged me in love to make the right
decisions. I also recently joined a local guild of
the Catholic Medical Association that put me in
touch with like-minded medical professionals from
around the area (but no pharmacists). The internet
was also very valuable to me. I was able to search
for articles (both pro & con), which helped me to
fine tune the arguments going on in my own head.
One benefit of this journey was spending a lot of
time during the five years leading up to this
decision learning more about Christ and his Church,
learning to love the authority of the Catholic
Church. Learning that what the Church is teaching me
is actually what Christ is teaching me.
AC: Where do you think this policy will
MK: I hope it leads me to love God more by
trying to do His will. I do know I have to be
careful not to think that this is all God is calling
me to do. I think everyday He is calling us to do
His will. This is just one request along the way.
AC: Do you anticipate fallout?
MK: So far the policy change has not made a big
blip on the radar screen. Some of the customers this
affects have left, but many have stayed. Our
business faces challenges everyday. I think this
will just be a small speed bump on the way.
AC: Mike, not all the reaction has been
bad. In fact, recently, I saw a newspaper article
concerning your decision and others from the
Catholic Medical Association. Frankly, I was
pleasantly surprised by the fairness of the article.
Has there been much publicity and has it been
generally favorable? Do you think God's protection
is upon you?
MK: As I mentioned earlier, I tried to be
very clear on what my goal was going into this: to
stop selling birth control. Other goals might arise
later such as education on the problem of artificial
birth control, but my primary goal needed to be very
clear. As far as publicity, I tried to keep a low
profile at first. I knew there was going to be a lot
of emotions tied up with this issue from all sides.
I didn't want to air out any dirty laundry in the
press or on TV. I may take this more public as time
goes on and some of the emotions calm down. I will
have to see how the Spirit leads me.
As far as God's protection upon me, I think it
is. Right after I made the decision to stop selling
the contraceptives a close friend warned me that
Satan would try to attack me in other areas of my
life because he had lost the contraceptive battle. I
have been praying to remain strong through any of
these struggles that may come my way.
I do know that God will protect me through this.
God definitely seemed to be guiding me on the timing
of this decision. Without going into all the detail,
I had already waited five years to make this
decision. Looking back, if I had waited just three
more months to make this decision, it very well may
not have had the same positive outcome. As time
continues to march on, it becomes easier to see how
God was in control of this whole process.
AC: Thanks, Mike, for agreeing to this
interview. It is my hope that your efforts will be
rewarded in many ways, but primarily that your stand
will cause other people to be willing to be
counter-cultural - especially in the support of
God's most precious gift: LIFE.