Pharmacists and freedom of conscience


Sir, – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a cornerstone of a democratic society and a society respectful of human rights. “Conscientious objection” is a right derived from the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to conscientious objection is not a right per se since international instruments of the United Nations do not make direct reference to such a right, but rather is normally characterised as a derivative right; a right that is derived from an interpretation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Conscientious objection arises only for serious moral issues. In most cases in which conscientious objection has been claimed, human life has been at stake. Conscientious objection represents a direct conflict where the individual’s conscience vetoes any personal involvement.

The individual cannot waiver profound moral or religious convictions without betraying herself.

Freedom of religion or belief prohibits undue infringement of a person’s religious freedom and also prohibits discrimination, ie denial of equality. Legislation plays an important role in guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief to all. States should take an active role in providing an environment that does not lead to “distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference” based on religion or belief and which results in the nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis.

The change to the Constitution and the legal situation in Ireland in relation to abortion will provide moral, ethical and religious challenges for many Irish pharmacists and other healthcare professionals and staff employed in healthcare settings.

Some unborn human life will be “patients” of pharmacists and will be protected by these pharmacists from the actions of teratogenic and abortifacient medications, etc.

Other unborn human life will not be entitled to the protection of pharmacists and pharmacists will be part of the process whereby a pregnant woman procures an abortion (for whatever reason) to terminate a pregnancy.

How many patients does a pharmacist have when caring for a pregnant woman? How do pharmacists differentiate between unborn humans who are to be protected by the pharmacist and unborn humans who are to be legally aborted? Pharmacists will be expected to discriminate between unborn human patients based on the choice made by a pregnant woman, for whatever reason.

Irish society as a whole expects a pharmacist to exercise his or her moral principles about the value of human life by alerting a pregnant woman, if there was reason to believe that a prescription contained an error or a prescribed medicine that would harm the pregnant woman or her unborn child. Pharmacists acting with probity and integrity should not have to stifle their moral, ethical or religious principles when it comes to dispensing medications used by a pregnant woman who decides to procure an abortion (for whatever reason).

The freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and opinion account for many facets of the life both of pharmacists and of society.

Pharmacists, their patients and society may not always share each others’ views, religious beliefs or opinions on various matters.

The effective implementation of these freedoms is a precondition for a society in which pharmacists and others can live in tolerance, peace and security. – Yours, etc,


BSc Pharm, MSc,


Kilcock,Co Kildare.

Sir, – It is both astonishing and depressing that even after the passing of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, some individuals continue to be more concerned with the rights of workers to feel “comfortable” about their own judgmental stances on someone else’s medical and life choices (a mode of being which suggests they are perhaps ill-suited to professions that require empathy) than with the rights of women to have a say in their own health. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.