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Increasing refusal to supply EHC would be beneficial

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?

Rosemary Baker

Retired pharmacist

Hoylake, Wirral

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202534

Readers' comments (2)

  • Rosemary:
    Neither levonorgestrel nor ulipristal is understood to be an abortifacient, so I guess you have a religious objection to the supply and the use of all contraceptive products including the contraceptive "pill", condoms, caps, spermicidal jellies, etc? That will surely have complicated the day-to-day practice of your profession because you will also, I presume, have refused to dispense or sell any of these contraceptive products?

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  • What makes you so sure that your decision was accepted 'with respect'? Have you considered that the lack of objection from the women you refused to supply EHC to might be due to the fact they were feeling scared/panicked/vulnerable/embarrassed and therefore felt incapable or unable to argue with you as a registered HCP who appeared to be judging her? I don't necessarily disagree that pharmacists should be allowed to respect their consciences however I find your argument and reasoning illogical and unsubstantiated. What we know of the mode of action is that it most likely prevents ovulation therefore as Richard states it is not abortifacient as it prevents fertililisation even before implantation. Secondly your method of research into ascertaining the view of those women you refused to supply is flawed.

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