The right of conscientious objection goes to the heart of medical practice as a moral activity

By Dave Andrusko

We’ve covered the battle over freedom of conscience without fail for decades. Beyond an absolute “right” to abortion on demand, paid for by you and me, next to “normalizing abortion,” pro-abortions want most of all the ability to conscript the medical community into its army of death providers. Perhaps, even more ideally, they hope to institute rules and regulations and laws that force pro-lifers out of the medical profession altogether.

Dr. Peter Saunders, whose blogs posts we have reposted countless times, has a fascinating new post he’s titled, “Regulator’s proposal to remove pharmacists’ conscience rights is unethical, unnecessary and quite possibly illegal.” For those who don’t know, Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.

He begins with the question: “Should pharmacists be forced to dispense drugs for what they consider to be unethical practices” – including, abortion and assisted suicide– “or should they have the right to exercise freedom of conscience by either referring to a colleague or opting out?” There is a real danger the former will come to pass.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the independent British regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises, is proposing to replace the current ‘right to refer’ with a ‘duty to dispense’.

The Council calls this ‘person-centred’ care. ‘Person-centred care’ which puts the dignity and best interests of the client first is, of course, crucial and at the very heart of true professionalism.

But the Council then goes on to frame this care in terms of a universal right for clients to ‘access’ legally prescribed drugs and devices. Pharmacists would thereby be pressured to comply or risk disciplinary procedures and/or possible loss of employment. Potential trainees could be dissuaded from pursuing a career in pharmacy altogether.

Saunders explains that the 1967 Abortion Act does have a conscience clause which allows health professionals to abstain from ‘participation’ in abortion. However, “Its scope has also recently been narrowed by a Supreme Court judgment so that it probably does not now protect pharmacists from being forced to supply drugs used in medical abortions.”

Moreover, whereas currently pharmacists “have a right to refer these cases to another pharmacy or colleague,” under the new draft guidance, “which the GPhC admits represents ‘a significant change from the present position’ this right would be removed.”

If possible, Dr. Saunders’ post should be read in its entirety. Let me conclude with his passionate defense of the centrality of freedom of conscience:

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are currently not legal in Britain, but were they to become so, this could be yet another situation where the new proposed guidance would leave pharmacists exposed.

Freedom of conscience has been a core ethical value, foundational to healthcare practice as a moral activity, from the Hippocratic Oath to the General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice.

The right of conscientious objection is not a minor or peripheral issue. It goes to the heart of medical practice as a moral activity. It helps to preserve the moral integrity of the individual clinician, preserves the distinctive characteristics and reputation of medicine as a profession, acts as a safeguard against coercive state power, and provides protection from discrimination for those with minority ethical beliefs. …

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals in their own right. Accordingly they deserve to be treated by their regulators with the respect due to their professional status. This latest proposal does not do that.