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Why we defend the 'conscience' clause

Christians in Pharmacy (CiP), a network of Christian pharmacists, technicians and pharmaceutical scientists, is seriously concerned with the implications of the proposals in the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) consultation on religion, personal beliefs and values in pharmacy (The Pharmaceutical Journal online, 22 December 2016).

The proposals would dramatically alter the fine balance between the rights of pharmacists and technicians, and the rights of patients. As pharmacy professionals, we are absolutely determined to give the highest level of care to all patients without discrimination. However, the proposals have the practical effect of expunging the long-held ‘conscience’ clause, protecting pharmacists and technicians from doing what they simply, in good conscience, cannot do.

Previously, the rights of pharmacists and technicians to decline their involvement in certain contentious practices were protected. Potentially, the nature of the new proposals will remove many of the safeguards and deter caring people of faith from entering the profession. This will be to the detriment of both the profession and the public at large.

The proposals will have the practical, although possibly unintended, effect of restricting employment and promotion opportunities, denying employment to many, and leading to a wide array of contractual problems for many Christian (and non-Christian) pharmacists and technicians. We see the proposals as the most profound in decades and will lead the profession into expensive and unnecessary legal disputes.

Over the years pharmacists and technicians of different religious faith, and those of no particular religious faith, have supported the need of a conscience clause. Pharmacy professionals have always been proud of being in a profession where the majority, whether of faith or none, have supported the rights of a significant minority on this issue. The new proposals change that.

We are also concerned that the consultation started just before the busiest period of the year, leading up to Christmas and New Year. Many pharmacists and technicians may not have had the time to read the proposals. The closing date leaves us little time to consult with our members, other religious organisations, and to seek legal advice. For proposals of such serious, wide-ranging, and long-term implications for practising Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths, and those who do not embrace any faith, the timescale is too short.

Conscience is not merely the mark of a free society, it is the guarantor of a free society. We appeal to fair-minded people to defend the ‘conscience’ principle. Please engage with us and with the GPhC.

Conscience is not merely the mark of a free society, it is the guarantor of a free society. We appeal to fair-minded people to defend the ‘conscience’ principle. Please engage with us (http://bit.ly/2jMZXY2) and with the GPhC.

Chik Kaw Tan

Simon Lewis

David Clapham

Esther Afetorgbor

Steven Bamford

Nicola Ward

Christians in Pharmacy

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202235

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