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        March 2017


Pharmacists at risk of conscientious freedom attack

New controversial proposals that involve removing a conscience clause could force pharmacists with pro-life beliefs and values to provide services which conflict with their conscience. For example pro-life pharmacists could be forced to provide abortifacient drugs, like the morning after pill. 

Currently, pharmacists who do not wish to sell abortifacient drugs to customers may refer them to another pharmacist. But GPhC, The General Pharmaceutical Council, is currently consulting on new guidance which would require pharmacists to go against their religious or conscientious convictions at their workplace; in the new guidance, pharmacists are instructed to ensure that they do not force their values or beliefs on customers.

The guidance states that pharmacists must “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs”, while weakening the right of referral to another pharmacist. It also says that in some cases, a pharmacist’s beliefs could render them “unable to take up certain working roles”. (As quoted in Christian Institiute)

Should pharmacists refuse to comply with these new standards, they will risk losing their license to work as pharmacists.

David Clapham, from Christians in Pharmacy, has commented saying that this guidance could discourage Christians from becoming pharmacists and that "This would be to the detriment of the profession, patients and pharmacy as a whole”. (As quoted in Christian Institute)

Moreover, the chair of the Muslim Doctors Association, Hina Shahid, says that her association also has concerns about these new proposals. She has commented saying: “Maintaining a culture of patient-centred care is undoubtedly the cornerstone of providing a safe and effective service to patients. However, we are concerned that certain proposed changes are very restrictive, such as removing the right of referral.

“It is important to recognise that adhering to a high standard of professionalism in the workplace involves respecting the rights of health practitioners and accommodating values and principles that are important to them, religious or otherwise.”

(As quoted in Phamaceutical Journal)

The GPhC consultation document acknowledges that these proposed changes will “change the expectations placed on pharmacy professionals when their religion, personal values and beliefs might – in certain circumstances – impact on their ability to provide services.” (As quoted in Christian Institute)

Chris Whitehouse, a trustee of Right to Life, has stated that Christians would struggle to find employment, and that “it is only a matter of time before such careers are closed down as options for those who hold such views”. He added: “We have already seen the impact of the Abortion Act in driving those of faith out of careers in obstetrics and gynaecology. It seems that the same rising tide of discrimination is about to engulf our locals pharmacists too.” (As quoted in Christian Institute)

Whitehouse has also brought to light the ironic nature of the proposal: it refers to the Equality Act 2010 as incentive for change but ignores the fact that 'religion or belief’ are protected characteristics of this Act. He has said: “In creating this discriminatory situation, the consultation document even acknowledges under the law, all these ‘protected characteristics have equal status’, then seems blatantly to ignore that requirement.” (As quoted in Christian Institute)

The consultation continues until 7th March.