22 February 2017, The Tablet

UK pharmacists fear anti-faith discrimination as changes to provision of morning-after-pill proposed

New standards to ensure pharmacists' 'personal values and beliefs' do not compromise care

Pro-life campaigners have warned that proposed changes to standards for pharmacists could discriminate against professionals who object to providing the morning after pill because of their faith.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the regulator for England, Scotland and Wales, has launched a public consultation, which, if passed, would advise all pharmacists to provide birth control and the morning after pill regardless of their religious or moral beliefs.

The Catholic Church teaches that the morning after pill can result in a chemically induced abortion.

The consultation on “religion, personal values and beliefs in delivering person-centred care” for pharmacy professionals proposes changing the wording in the professional code of conduct from the current wording introduced in 201O. This advised pharmacists to “tell relevant health professionals, employers or others if their own values or beliefs prevent them from providing care and refer people to other providers”.

The proposed new standards would require pharmacists to “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs”.

Failure to meet standards established by the regulator could result in a pharmacist being deemed unfit to practice.

The new rules would come into effect on 1 May.

Chris Whitehouse, a trustee of the pro-life organisation Right to Life, said that the guidelines could ensure the widespread delivery of abortion. He argued that although the GPhC says the Equality Act of 2010 is at the heart of this proposed change in wording, it would actually end up discriminating against certain religions and beliefs also protected by the Act.

He said that the change in guidance would have a further negative impact on a medical profession which had already lost gynecologists and obstetricians of some faiths after the introduction of the Abortion Act.

“It’s a real threat to pharmacists of different religions and looks certain to push many out of their profession,” he claimed.

A spokeswoman for the GPhC said that the proposals shifted the balance away from the pharmacist and “in favour of the needs and rights of the person in their care.”

“A pharmacy professional’s first responsibility is to their patient, and they must take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of their religion, personal values or beliefs,” she added.

But she explained: “The consultation document does not say that pharmacy professionals would be prohibited from referring patients but that they must consider if in individual cases referral is appropriate or not.”

The consultation is open until 7 March.

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