Conscientious objections in pharmacy practice in Great Britain

Zuzana Deans


Pharmacists who refuse to provide certain services or treatment for reasons of conscience have been criticized for failing to fulfil their professional obligations. Currently, individual pharmacists in Great Britain can withhold services or treatment for moral or religious reasons, provided they refer the patient to an alternative source. The most high-profile cases have concerned the refusal to supply emergency hormonal contraception, which will serve as an example in this article.

I propose that the pharmacy profession’s policy on conscientious objections should be altered slightly. Building on the work of Brock and Wicclair, I argue that conscientious refusals should be acceptable provided that the patient is informed of the service, the patient is redirected to an alternative source, the refusal does not cause an unreasonable burden to the patient, and the reasons for the refusal are based on the core values of the profession. Finally, I argue that a principled categorical refusal by an individual pharmacist is not morally permissible. I claim that, contrary to current practice, a pharmacist cannot legitimately claim universal exemption from providing a standard service, even if that service is available elsewhere.

Deans Z. Conscientious objections in pharmacy practice in Great Britain. Bioethics. 2013 Jan;27(1):48-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2011.01918.x. Epub
2011 Jul 29. PubMed PMID: 21797914.

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