I have recently retired from practice but if I were still practising in community pharmacy today, I would have to decide whether to look for a new sector of practice or wait until I was ousted from my post because I have a moral objection to supplying emergency hormonal contraception (EHC).
The proposed new General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) professional standards are intended to make it extremely difficult for people who, like myself, have a conscientious objection to supplying such a medicine.
There appears to be no respect or consideration from the GPhC that I would refuse to supply a medicine that could deliberately interfere with a new life. Until now, those with my beliefs could explain their situation to patients and signpost them to another source of supply. This signposting was, on my part, solely an indication that there were other pharmacies available nearby which might, or might not, be prepared to assist.
However, I never once had anyone object to my refusal to supply; my explanation of why I could not make the supply was always accepted with respect, albeit occasionally with surprise. Those who were surprised had never considered how the medicine worked. They are told from an early age how useful and acceptable it is with little information of its mode of action and it comes as a shock to hear that a pharmacist has objections to supplying it. Perhaps, in the long run, it would be more beneficial if EHC supply was refused more often and women would not expect it to be available whenever and wherever they desire.
Cases are sometimes quoted of women in rural areas or at unusual times being unable to obtain EHC and missing the deadline to take it. I have never met a pharmacist who had experienced such an event and can only presume that, if they do exist, they are extremely rare. Yet the GPhC is prepared to extend the standards to cover every eventuality and the result is that, in not discriminating against the beliefs of the patient, the governing body will discriminate against its own registrant. Is this fair?
If this current consultation receives approval will that imply that pharmacists will never be allowed to act in accordance with their conscience regarding the supply of medicines? If so, will those who write the laws of the land decide that there is no need for a conscience clause in any legislation on assisted suicide to include pharmacists?