MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Catholic pharmacists in the United Kingdom are concerned that new guidelines from an industry regulator will force them to act against their consciences.

They also are troubled that guidelines issued in late July by the General Pharmaceutical Council could lead to dismissal of Christian pharmacists and even could prevent them from entering the field if they act on their beliefs by refusing to distribute the morning-after pill.

The abortifacient drug prevents a fertilised ovum from implanting into the womb.

“Catholic pharmacists have the obligation to respect the fact that life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death by not supplying, or participating in the supply of, drugs for abortion or euthanasia,” said Ms Anna Sweeting-Hempsall, a Catholic hospital pharmacist from England, and a member of the US-based Pharmacists for Life.
“Until now, the conscience clause gave Catholic pharmacists the right not to compromise their beliefs, and provided invaluable protection against unethical employers who might have tried to force pharmacists to act against their conscience and supply these drugs,” she said.

The new Guidance on the Provision of Pharmacy Services Affected by Religious and Moral Beliefs governs pharmacists in England, Scotland and Wales.

The guidelines place new restrictions on conscience protections and will require pharmacists who do not want to distribute the morning-after pill to refer customers to a named pharmacist who will give them the pills. Pharmacists also must check ahead to ensure the product is in stock.

Other requirements compel pharmacists to dispense drugs for in vitro fertilisation, which often results in destruction of embryos.

The document also informs pharmacists, for the first time, that their right to conscientious objection is secondary to the contractual demands of their employers.

The revised guidelines come as the government is placing pharmacists under increasing pressure to make the morning-after pill easily available, even to children, to reduce Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate, which is among the highest in Europe.

The pharmaceutical council said in an Aug. 5 statement to CNS that the guidelines were not binding, however. “Our guidance is advice for pharmacy professionals and explains how our standards might be met,” the statement said. “The requirements of our guidance are not mandatory.”

However, Catholic lawyer Neil Addison, said “What many people do not seem to grasp is ... that if you are refusing to do something because it is morally objectionable you cannot be obliged to recommend someone else.”

Mr John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told CNS, “What they are stipulating runs directly contrary to the fundamental right of conscientious objection, of having absolutely nothing to do with drugs which may kill an early developing human embryo.” - CNS

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