Monday, March 29, 2010


Via the F-Word. Recently the General Pharmaceutical Council voted to keep the 'conscience' clause that allows pharmacists to refuse to dispense products that are contrary to their own personal beliefs. I find it troubling and it does seem to be a problem, here & here, for example.

I can agree that doctors should not have to perform terminations if they have a problem with it for religious or other reasons. I think one of the differences for me is that a doctor can choose which areas of medicine they deal with. A doctor who disagrees with contraception or abortion could and should work in a discipline that keeps them out of having to compromise their personal convictions or patients' services. Potentially that means working as a GP is not the most suitable career path, but stretching a point, I think if working as a GPs, if their beliefs prevent them from supplying specific services to their patients, then that should be made plain to all their patients from the get-go. Religion/personal convictions are private, up until it impinges on what patients can expect from them, and then it should be something they're informed of, before they join their practice, imo.

But a front-line pharmacist cannot choose which areas of health are going to come up, so if something they believe prohibits them from certain aspects of their job, then they're incapable of fulfilling the role. Where it comes to the case where a pharmacist refused ordinary birth control, I just find that incredible. In the wrong job, is the least of what comes to mind.

It's not simply a case that patients should just use another pharmacy: that's not so bad perhaps if you live in towns or cities, but in more rural areas, it's a big deal getting to another. In my locale, there are two dispensing outlets, both run by the same team of pharmacists. And on weekends and out-of-hours, even in urban areas there isn't the option. Assuming that there is that choice assumes privilege, of being able to travel further afield etc, that in reality we don't all have.

I'm aware that my position isn't entirely consistent, because I do think differently about the doctor vs pharmacist. My focus here is reproductive rights, although there are doubtless other personal convictions that may be at issue. I think it's besides the pharmacist not being able to choose which aspect of healthcare will present itself at his/her counter, it's that performing a surgical abortion is active, while providing the means is more passive: it's entirely up to the patient to follow through by taking RU486 (the abortion pill).

But for me it boils down to the fact that a person has the right to make choices for her own body, her own conscience. Trying to impose your own personal convictions onto others isn't acceptable.

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