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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

New guidelines make it harder for pharmacists to impose their religion at the chemists

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has issued new regulations about chemists who refuse to supply the “morning after” contraceptive pill or other forms of contraception or drugs required for IVF because of their “religious conscience.” For the first time the guidelines appear to say that the pharmacists’ contractual obligations to their employer must take precedence over supposed religious objections.

The guidelines say that if pharmacists are “unable” to supply contraceptives because of their beliefs they must refer them on to another pharmacy that will fulfil the order – and within the time required.

When applying for a job, pharmacists should inform their potential employer of any religious problems they have in dispensing medicines.

The new guidelines have come about because of numerous instances of staff working in chemist’s shops refusing to supply contraceptives to women. In the past they have escaped disciplinary procedures despite the humiliation, distress and inconvenience caused to the customer.

The regulator produced the guidelines to explain how a pharmacist’s right to conscientious objection should be interpreted. All pharmacists are accountable to the GPhC and must be able to explain their actions in the context of the regulator’s guidance.

However, the GPhC said the document was “not mandatory” and was open to review after one year. “Our guidance is advice for pharmacy professionals and explains how our standards might be met, or provide additional suggestions for practice,” a spokeswoman said.

Terry Sanderson, President of theNational Secular Society, said: “It is about time the GPhC addressed this problem. We have seen numerous cases of women being refused medication because of pharmacists bringing their religion into the workplace and allowing it to dominate. Now these ‘conscientious objectors’ are even arguing about referring people on to another pharmacy because they argue it is conspiring with others to supply contraception which, again, is against their conscience.”

Mr Sanderson said that this was likely to become a growing problem as more people from the Muslim community train as pharmacists in greater numbers.

“The GPhC should stick to its guns and ensure that these guidelines become mandatory,” he said.

See also: Contraceptive objections in USA

Published Fri, 12 Aug 2011