By Linda Wegner
The Interim

In a first-in-Canada decision, members of the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association recently endorsed the right of pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions they believe are morally inappropriate and which violate their commitment to provide care for all members of the public.

Ronald Guse, association registrar for the Manitoba College of Pharmacists, referred to the existing standards which give pharmacists the ability to “refuse to fill a prescription if they feel that the manner in which it was prescribed was incorrect or wasn’t prescribed for the right reasons.”

The Manitoba decision goes further than most pharmacy “conscience clauses,” in that it releases pharmacists from the obligation to refer patients to another source of obtaining legally prescribed drugs such as Preven, an abortion-causing “morning-after” pill.

Mike Izzotti, coordinator of Pharmacists for Life International/Canada, (PFLI/Canada) explained that the recent endorsement is neither law nor new.

“The policy is not yet a law but it does re-state longstanding guidelines on proper pharmaceutical care,” he said.

Izzotti explained that pharmacists already operate under a professional code, which centers on patient care rather than on medication.

“We understand the value of life and we consider the unborn as members of the public, too,” he said.

In a June 7, 2000 press release, PFLI/Canada applauded the move to recognize the right of pharmacists to exercise their moral, ethical or religious objections toward dispensing or making referrals for any product “intended to cause death, including chemicals for assisted suicides, euthanasia and those which can cause abortions.”

“By allowing freedom of conscience, pharmacists are not impaired in the proper exercise of professional judgement and skills,” Izzotti said.

In its June 5, 2000 press release, Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience applauded and supported the Manitoba College for its “courageous inclusion of a model statement in their Standards of Practice.”

Spokesperson Maria Bizecki, said, “Pharmacists in Manitoba can now exercise their freedom of conscience rights without fear for their noble livelihood. Pharmacists are presently objecting to participating as agents of death, not attempting to block access or give moral pep talks at the pharmacy counter.”

She explained that pharmacists are simply being given the same protection afforded doctors.

“By pushing their morality on health care workers,” she said, “the public violates a pharmacist’s autonomy, integrity and basic human rights in a country that protects its minorities.”

Niel Slykerman, president of Campaign Life Coalition Manitoba, commended Fort Garry (Winnipeg) MLA, Joy Smith, on her recent efforts to protect life. According to Slykerman, Smith presented a petition to the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party on June 13, advocating the banning of partial-birth abortions and “genetic terminations,” as well as the implementation of the conscience clause.

In a June 9 letter to the Winnipeg Free Press, Sean Murphy, administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project, stated that the B.C. College of Pharmacists has warned members of the possibility of being forced to dispense drugs for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Although to date Manitoba is the only provincial college to have adopted this policy, the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) prepared a model regulatory position statement (November 14, 1999) to be considered for adoption or adaptation and implementation. The statement recognizes the right of pharmacists to object to the dispensing of products or services that violate his or her conscience. However, a second clause requires that pre-arranged access to an alternate source of such products or services be provided by the pharmacist.

In its review of the proposed policy, PFLI/Canada objected to the second condition on the grounds that forcing pharmacists to provide alternative sources would defeat the purpose of the conscience clause: “In the case of euthanasia, it is clear that to provide an alternate source causes the pharmacist to be an accessory to murder,” PFLI/Canada said.