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Pharmacists could lose conscience opt outs

17 March 2017


CHRISTIAN pharmacists could find them­selves isolated in the workplace under new proposals that could remove the right to con­scien­tious objection within the profession, the Church of England has said.

The General Pharmaceutical Council pub­lished a consultation paper in December, Consultation on Religion, Personal Values and Beliefs, which proposed that pharmacists “do not impose” their personal values and beliefs on people, and “take re­­spon­sib­ility for en­­suring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs. . .

“These proposals will change the expecta­tions placed on pharmacy pro­fessionals when their religion, personal values, or beliefs might — in certain circumstances — impact on their ability to provide services. They will shift the balance in favour of the needs and rights of the person in their care. . . This is a significant change from the present position.”

The change could lead to pharmacists’ losing the right to opt out of dispensing abortion-inducing drugs, or the morning-after pill, for example.

The consultation con­­cluded on Tuesday of last week. A decision whether to imple­ment the proposals will be made in the coming months.

In a response to the Pharmaceutical Coun­cil’s consultation, the Church of England’s national adviser on medical ethics, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, said that the Council’s proposals could deny Chris­tians protection at work. He said, however, that a balance needed to be struck “between person-centred care and conscientious objection”.

“Those who wish to exercise conscientious objection . . . should not be isolated in the workplace, and it should not fall solely on their shoulders to resolve tensions between their beliefs and providing medicines which a client is lawfully requesting,” he said.

“Delivering a comprehensive range of ser­vices is owned and shared by both pharma­cists and employers or owners. The ideal outcome is that this can be done in such a way that there is room for — albeit limited — con­scientious objection.

“The prospect of members of certain faith or belief groups’ no longer being represented among the pharmacy profession would be entirely unwelcome and not in keeping with fostering an inclusive and pluralist society.”

He suggested that the Pharmaceutical Coun­cil permitted Christian employers to exercise the right to conscientious objection “in co-­operation with employees and other staff”.

The Council’s chief executive, Duncan Rud­kin, acknowledged, when the consultation was announced, the importance of a pharmacist’s religious beliefs, but said that the Council wanted “to make sure people can access the advice, care, and services they need from a pharmacy, when they need them”.

In its response, the Roman Catholic Church objected to the assertion that “having a moral conscience and patient-centred care are not compatible facets of a pharmacist’s profes­sion”.

The director of the Anscombe Centre, the bioethics institute of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK and Ireland, Professor David Jones, said in his submission that the pro­posals would compel pharmacists to dispense deadly drugs to people who wished to end their lives, if assisted suicide became legal.

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