Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Chemists' opt-out over beliefs: Your comments


Pharmacists across the UK have been told they can continue to refuse to dispense items that might clash with their personal religious beliefs.

A revised code of conduct from the new industry regulator, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), will allow staff to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill and contraception. In future, pharmacists who choose to opt-out may have to give customers details of alternative shops.

BBC News website readers have been sending in their views about the issue.


I am a pharmacist and the pharmacy code of ethics states "make the care of patients your first concern". My own personal beliefs should not impact on any advice I give. I can't understand why any of my colleagues would refuse the sale of something like the morning after pill where timing is so crucial. I can't see how denying someone emergency contraception can possibly comply with our code of ethics.
Kat, Worthing, West Sussex

As a trainee pharmacist I believe that when an individual takes a certain career path, they should be prepared to undertake all of the tasks involved, not just a selection of whatever suits them. While I appreciate that professional judgement is to be respected, I think pharmacists imposing their religious beliefs on others damages the profession as well as individual businesses - if I knew of a pharmacist who would not dispense my contraception, I wouldn't use their pharmacy again.
Hannah, Bath

I'm afraid I disagree with the conscience clause. I am a Muslim and feel pharmacists are only providing a service for medical reasons. They have chosen that particular profession and must accept the job in its entirety. If they feel they are sinning by providing contraception, then will they cease to serve medicine containing alcohol and other prohibited ingredients? It will be extremely difficult and unprofessional to be checking all medicine prior to dispensing. Medicine and ailments are for medical reasons only. When choosing a profession, you must accept the nature of the job.
Khwa, Birmingham, West Midlands

Four years ago I took my usual prescription to a pharmacy near my house and was told by the pharmacist that he personally didn't believe such medications were necessary so he wouldn't prescribe them for me. This was for antidepressants and painkillers for rheumatoid arthritis. His opinion was that only 'druggies' need these. I then had to go back home in tears due to being accused of being an addict when I'm a chronic pain sufferer, get in my car and drive eight miles in pain to a pharmacy. The bottom line is this, if I refused to do my job due to personal beliefs I would be fired. Why should these people have a different standard?
Helen, Swindon

They should be sacked or struck-off, simple. They have a job to dispense medications, and they should not be interfering. If there is some aspect of the job they feel they cannot do due to moral or religious beliefs then they should not be in that job. Remember, this is not a free service they are providing - it is a public service and they get paid handsomely for it.
James, Guildford, Surrey

One cannot impose one's religious beliefs on someone else. If religious beliefs are so strong as to run the likelihood of such a personal conflict, and that such a conflict is entirely foreseeable, don't join the profession. There are plenty of other outlets for one's abilities within the profession where such conflict is avoidable. I do not think, for instance, that a Jehovah's Witness would seek employment within the blood transfusion service, nor a Muslim or Jew in a pork butchers shop. By all means stick to one's beliefs, but accept that they are yours and that you have no right to impose your beliefs on me.
Gordon, Crich, Derbyshire

I honestly do not understand how a pharmacist can refuse to dispense say, the morning after pill, while freely dispensing something like methadone. I feel that at the very least, any pharmacy that has a person with this kind of attitude, should be obliged to employ someone else who can dispense without theological objection as in some cases it would be impractical for the customer to go elsewhere.
Tina, London

If someone doesn't want to do their job, they have two choices: leave or be fired. Yes, they have the religious freedom to say "I won't do X", but if X is part of the job then they should ask to be reassigned to another job, or leave if there are no jobs available which they are willing to do. If I took a job in an electronics store, and then said "I believe that video games are bad, so I won't sell them", how long would I last? How about in a video section and refusing to sell '18' classified videos? The situation would be much worse where someone's health or even life may be at stake.
Chris C, Aylesbury

On the whole, people need to remember that their religious beliefs - like any other opinions that they hold - are a personal matter and should not be imposed on anyone else who does not share that belief. However, if they feel that they cannot in all conscience fill a prescription or give impartial advice, they must pass the patient on to someone who can meet their needs. I am surprised at anyone so arrogant as not to do that.
Megan, Cheshire


I am a pharmacist, and yes I absolutely believe that we, as a profession, should be allowed to refuse to supply the morning-after pill or anything else that contradicts our religious beliefs. This has always been the case, and if refusing to supply something we have always had to inform the patient or customer where else they can get a supply. This is nothing new. I do not have strong religious beliefs that would prevent me from making supplies of medication but I fully support those pharmacists that do feel strongly enough not to make certain supplies. Patients should accept this.
Claire, Sheffield

This is very good news. Respect for the consciences of citizens is a vital part of a free society and a safeguard against the controlling tendencies of the state.
Chris, Oxford

Thank God for common sense. All health professionals have the right to opt out of prescribing medicines and treatments, including abortions, if it clashes with their beliefs. But in life threatening situations they must refer to a professional who will prescribe the medicine or treatment. So why should pharmacists be excluded from opt out because of the philosophical (religious) beliefs of humanists and groups like the National Secular Society?
Phelim, Liphook, Hampshire

It is only right that people should have the right to refuse to compromise their religious beliefs. Does the National Secular Society think that Muslims should be forced to handle alcohol or pork products? A simple explanation in the few times when a pharmacist feels unable to dispense such items with an alternative route for the customer should suffice. Just because members of the National Secular Society does not have beliefs does not mean that others cannot.
Peter, Brighton

Keep the opt-out clause. Whether you agree with them or not, asking people to hand over treatments which in their eyes will effectively end a human life is cruel and traumatic. When there are plenty of other places to get your prescriptions cashed, and other doctors you can see, why is this an issue?
Angela, Northern Ireland

An opt-out should be OK in principal as we have to weigh the potential conflict between the beliefs and lifestyles of everyone involved. However there should be more openness and transparency. The pharmacists involved should also be prepared for their employers to "opt out" of their employment. They must be required to inform their potential employers at interview and their potential employers should be protected from refusing to hire them based on their declaration. Similarly, if their beliefs change, perhaps conveniently, during their employment then they should expect to consider their positions and may be asked to resign without compensation culture comeback.

Finally, a statutory sign should be placed in the entranceway - like with credit card differential pricing - explaining that the staff may wish to exercise their rights to refuse to deal with you. This is so that you do not get embarrassed when the woman (and it almost always is) behind the counter loudly declares to everyone around that she will not sell you the pill, and other items.
Peter, London

I do not understand why we are making this a big issue. If a pharmacy does not have the pill that my doctor prescribed then they would give me an owing slip and ask me if I could return the following day to collect it. Therefore I find it perfectly fine for a pharmacist to refuse to give me pill if it goes against pills because I could just go to a pharmacy nearby. However I do agree with the fact that if a pharmacist refuses to supply my pills then they should advise me of a place where I can get them.
Jorden, Barking, London

They should certainly be allowed to opt out. There is a big battle on at the moment to try to suppress 'matters of conscience' by this very aggressive secular and humanist lobby. They do not want us to be able to hold these sort of views at all. But if we insisted that they had no right to freedom beyond religious ideals they would be very upset. The truth is that all people deserve respect without prejudice and should be able to reject that which they find offensive.

I am not against any chemist sharing information to form a 'rota' and making it public. That would enable members of the public to access services according to their beliefs at any time. It also protects the pharmacists who reject certain ideas on the grounds of conscience. We need sensible dialogue so that all are catered for - what we do not need are foolish and contemptuous statements from leaders of minority groups that look to trample on individuals for the sake of a group they loosely term 'people'. Those with conscience issues are 'people' too.
John, Longton

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