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‘I care about life’: pharmacist

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Pro-life health professionals opposing pressure to kill
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo Caption: Sean Murphy is also an advocate for conscience rights and says, “I don’t fault the people who are unwilling to be identified because if they are targeted, they do face the possibility of disciplinary action in some provinces”. (linkedin)

A long-time B.C. pharmacist with a love for the medical profession never thought she’d find herself swimming against the tide when it comes to respect for human life.

Now she worries about identifying herself when she discusses conscience rights. She is worried about backlash or losing her job.

“I work in a community pharmacy. I help people with blood pressure, cholesterol, and mood disorders. I never thought about helping abort human lives,” Joan (not her real name) told The B.C. Catholic.

But earlier this year, the abortion drug Mifegymiso became available in B.C. pharmacies for the first time. The B.C. College of Pharmacists calls it a “non-surgical option for early abortion.”

Joan refuses to dispense it. “I cannot judge other pharmacists, whether they do it or not; I’m just judging my own actions.”

Joan, who is Catholic, said her faith is part of her decision, but it’s not the only reason. “I’m doing this myself. It’s not something that I’m following blindly because of the Church’s teaching. I know this is the right thing to do,” she said.

“I care about life. I do not want my knowledge to be involved in any killing. The abortion pill is taking away lives.”

Recent changes to the B.C. College of Pharmacists’ code of ethics, due in part to years of lobbying by pro-life pharmacist Cristina Alarcon (B.C. Catholic, April 27), mean Joan is protected from having to dispense Mifegymiso or birth control drugs.

The updated code of ethics states that if a product or service “is contrary to the sincerely held conscientious or religious belief” of pharmacists, they must inform their managers, not discuss their personal beliefs with patients, and respect their patient’s needs in a timely and non-judgmental manner.

Yet the conscience protection clause, which only came into effect this year, arrives amid a professional atmosphere largely hostile to views such as Joan’s. “I was thinking: if I don’t (prescribe), will I get dismissed?” she said.

Sean Murphy, head of the Protection of Conscience Project, said that’s a common fear among pharmacists, doctors, and nurses with beliefs that go against the current of popular opinion.

“Very few individuals who are in that position are willing to identify themselves,” he said. “I don’t fault the people who are unwilling to be identified because if they are targeted, they do face the possibility of disciplinary action in some provinces” and “certainly face the prospect of harassment.”

Murphy’s organization defends conscience rights against government overreach and provides information to anyone in situations like Joan’s.

Physicians have faced backlash simply for posting a sign advising patients they don’t dispense birth control, and Murphy has heard of some coming under attack from individuals who weren’t even patients and weren’t refused services.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “Pharmacists, physicians, and nurses who have families and family responsibilities” know “it’s not just their own jobs on the line.”

The colleges of pharmacists and physicians in B.C. both currently protect conscience rights, but Murphy believes the debate is far from over.

“We’re not going to see an end to this push” to force doctors to make referrals to colleagues who will carry out objectionable services, he said.

The pressure to force pharmacists and physicians to dispense birth control and participate in abortion was just a “dress rehearsal,” said Murphy. The legalization of assisted suicide in Canada has created more fronts for conscience-bound medical professionals to deal with.

“The same arguments used for forcing physicians to refer for abortion are being used to force physicians to refer for euthanasia and assisted suicide,” he said. The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario, for example, requires doctors to make referrals for procedures they disagree with.

Some would take it even further, said Murphy. A pair of bioethics writers argued in a 2016 paper that if doctors have to refer patients, they might as well do the deed themselves.

“40 years ago, if anyone had suggested it was going to be acceptable to compel citizens to collaborate in homicide and suicide, even if they believed it to be wrong, and punished if they refused, it would have been completely unacceptable,” Murphy said.

“I don’t know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”

His organization has made submissions to protect conscience rights to federal and provincial governments. So has the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada, and both worry about the lack of success.

“Ontario seems to be paving the way for an avant-garde legislative body that doesn’t truly care about charter rights,” said CCRL executive director Christian Domenic Elia.

The league decried the recent defeat of a private member’s bill to protect conscience rights put forward by Ontario MPP Jeff Yurek. Other efforts to support conscience-bound professionals with thousands of letters and petitions also seem to be largely ignored in that province.

“We have freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in this country. We shouldn’t be having this conversation,” said Elia.

What he calls a “hell-bent, twisted desire” to force doctors, nurses, dentists, or pharmacists to act against their consciences is not good for medicine.

“Historically, we’ve seen [medical professionals] as holders of extreme knowledge and wisdom (who) act in the best interests of their patients and according to their own integrity. If they are willing to corrupt their own integrity, do you want to go to that medical professional?”

Those professionals do speak publicly about their conscientious objections are “rare, precious, and special.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 09:52  

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