U.K. church leaders: Pharmacists could be forced to dispense lethal drugs

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — The
Catholic Church has predicted that British pharmacists could be forced to
dispense lethal drugs under plans to prohibit conscientious objection on the
grounds of religion.

Proposals by the General
Pharmaceutical Council, the regulatory body that sets professional standards
for the industry throughout Britain, were criticized by the Bishops’
Conference of England and Wales and the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a Catholic
institute serving the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The pharmaceutical council
announced in December that it wished to change “the expectations of
pharmacy professionals when their religion, personal values or beliefs might …
impact on their ability to provide services, and shift the balance in favor of
the needs and rights of the person in their care.”

It intends to order pharmacists
to “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centered care is not
compromised because of personal values and beliefs.”

“We understand the
importance of a pharmacy professional’s religion, personal values or beliefs,
but we want to make sure people can access the advice, care and services they
need from a pharmacy, when they need them,” said Duncan Rudkin, chief
executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council. “We recognize that this
represents a significant change.”

Interested parties were given
until March 7 to express their views on the proposed changes.

In an undated submission,
Anscombe director David Jones suggested that the changes would force
pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill, which in some cases acts by
preventing a fertilized ovum from implanting into the uterus.

“In relation to termination
of pregnancy, most abortions are now medical rather than surgical, and the
drugs which cause an abortion are dispensed by pharmacists,” Jones said in
a paper posted on the Anscombe website.

He also warned the regulator
that if assisted suicide laws were changed in the United Kingdom to permit the
practice, then pharmacists would have no right to object to dispensing lethal
drugs to customers who wished to kill themselves.

“In the future, requests
could even include requests to dispense drugs for assisted suicide: requests
with which many pharmacists will rightly be reluctant to comply,” Jones
said. “Having conceded so much in terms of the wishes of the person using
the pharmacy, the council may find it difficult to retrace its steps and
re-establish professional control centered on the person’s genuine health

The proposals, he continued,
risked “eviscerating the profession of concern for the genuine health
interests of people using the pharmacy.”

A change could also “create
an atmosphere that is hostile to religious people in particular,” Jones

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Mason of
Southwark, responding March 7 on behalf of the English and Welsh bishops, told the pharmaceutical
council that its proposal “seems to imply that conscientious objection,
whether motivated by religious or other concerns, is an obstacle to ensuring
patient-centered care.”

“It appears to suggest that
having a moral conscience and patient-centered care are not compatible facets
of a pharmacist’s profession,” he said in an excerpt emailed to Catholic
News Service March 7. “However, we contend that being a person of conscience
is, in fact, a requirement of any health care professional.”

Rosemary Baker, a retired
Catholic pharmacist from Wirral, England, told CNS in a March 7 email
that during her career, she had occasionally refused to dispense the morning-after
pill, but had always explained her reasons with “understanding and respect.”

“Such a refusal under the
proposed standard would be very likely to be considered as a breach of the
patient’s rights to care and place the pharmacist in breach of the professional
standards,” said Baker, a former lecturer in pharmacy law and health care
ethics at Liverpool John Moores University.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article