Matters of Conscience for Pharmacists

  • Dr Philip Howard, President of the Catholic Medical Association

The General Pharmaceutical Council seeks to change the ethical code for Pharmacists. It has moved from an objective ethic which seeks to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of patients and to maintain the trust and confidence of the public. Instead, it is now promoting patient centred care with a subjective ethic which seeks to satisfy the wishes of the client requesting Pharmacy services. The Council had previously advised that Pharmacists with conscientious objections to providing certain services such as Emergency Hormonal Contraception or abortifacient drugs should make their views known to their employers and customers in good time. It is now proposed that Pharmacists “recognise their own values and beliefs but do not impose them on other people [and] take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs.”

The Council recognises that this is a significant change from the current position and goes on to state that “a referral to another service provider might not be the right option, or enough, to ensure that person-centred care is not compromised.”

Pharmacists should act with honesty and integrity in their professional activities. This means that there will be occasions when issues arise which may require conscientious objection. The provision of abortifacient medication is the most obvious example. However, in future the provision of medication for assisted suicide and euthanasia could be an issue, as it is already in those jurisdictions which allow such practices.

The Council is due to make formal changes to the ethical code in June. It is hoped that any changes will maintain the moral integrity of the profession and allow rights of conscientious objection.

The full Catholic Medical Association response to the current consultation on the proposed changes to the ethical code can be found on the CMA website at

Tags: Dr Philip Howard, President of the Catholic Medical Association, Matters of Conscience for Pharmacists

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