Experts query 'conscience clauses'

The Oxford Times: Rules that enable pharmacists to opt out of giving women the morning after pill need to be banned or enhanced, according to researchers Rules that enable pharmacists to opt out of giving women the morning after pill need to be banned or enhanced, according to researchers

Current "conscience clauses" which allow pharmacists to opt-out of giving women the morning after pill are not satisfactory, experts said.

These clauses should either be banned or enhanced so that pharmacists and patients know exactly where they stand, researchers said.

In the UK, pharmacists have been able to give women the morning after pill without prescription since 2001.

But conscience clauses allow pharmacists to opt-out of giving emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) on religious or moral grounds, providing they refer patients to other providers willing to prescribe the product.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors said the status quo was "not satisfactory" to either conscientious objectors or to those who must regulate them.

They said that pharmacists who objected to supplying the pill "have allowed themselves to be convinced that referral to another willing supplier is ethically any different from supply" and that regulators have created a "pass the buck system".

The authors, from the University of Hertfordshire and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, wrote: "Either the General Pharmaceutical Council's and Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland must compel all pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to all patients meeting the clinical criteria who request it regardless of their own moral or religious objections, or the pharmacist must refuse both to supply EHC and to refer the patient to an alternative supplier and confront the possible consequence of a complaint against them for poor professional performance or professional misconduct.

"The alternative is to remain locked in the current cycles of mutual cognitive dissonance wherein the objectors convince themselves that referral does not constitute supply and the regulators do not place themselves in the position of having to deal with a vocal religious minority of whom they are terrified.

"As it stands, neither side wants the high-hanging grapes as they will be sour anyway."

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