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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Repression of Conscience

Alberta Pharmacist Vindicated for Pro-Life Stand

Calgary, Alberta, Canada (2000-2003)

The BC Catholic,
3 November, 2003
Reproduced with permission

Mike Mastromatteo
Special to The B.C. Catholic

"The complaints were made after a pro-choice organization published on the Internet the name of Bizecki and encouraged the public to make complaints to both her employer and the college (of pharmacists)," Chipeur said. "The complaints have caused Bizecki to incur significant legal expenses that she is currently just beginning to pay off."

A Calgary pharmacist has reached an agreement with her employer and the Alberta College of Pharmacists that will allow her to refrain from providing customers with prescriptions designed to terminate unborn human life.

Maria Bizecki of the Co-op Pharmacy in Calgary became the subject of an internal review by the Alberta College of Pharmacists last year after she refused to dispense the so-called "morning-after" pill and other products to which she is morally opposed.

Bizecki, who is active with an organization called Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience, has long been concerned with the right of pharmacists to refuse to have anything to do with products and services they find morally objectionable. She has been working to develop a conscience clause for pharmacists since 1996.

The agreement between Bizecki and her employer is a victory of sorts for pro-life pharmacists. Many such pharmacists have reservations about filling prescriptions or providing services that conflict with religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life. The morning-after pill is particularly troublesome for pro-life pharmacists because it can result in the killing of a baby in its embryo stage.

News of their Alberta colleague's success in having her freedom to refuse to dispense abortion medications respected has heartened pro-life B.C. pharmacists, who have yet to be accorded the same rights by their own professional body.

Commenting on the decision, B.C. pharmacist Cristina Alarcon told The B.C. Catholic, "I think this is wonderful. It's high time that the colleges recognize there needs to be freedom of conscience for their members.

"It's essential in any society that purports to call itself democratic. This will be the 4th year in a row that we have lobbied the B.C. College of Pharmacists on the issue and challenged them to study our code of ethics to allow all pharmacists throughout B.C. to maintain their freedom of conscience in the working environment.

"I hope that Maria's case will serve as an example to our college of how out of step they are in their current thinking."

Gerald Chipeur, an attorney who represented Bizecki before the Alberta College of Pharmacists, told The B.C. Catholic that his client faced a number of complaints from her employer and from the college of pharmacists because of her decision to remain true to her religious convictions.

Rather than quietly filling prescriptions for such products, Bizecki preferred to advise customers to find another pharmacist who had no moral qualms about abortifacients.

"The complaints were made after a pro-choice organization published on the Internet the name of Bizecki and encouraged the public to make complaints to both her employer and the college (of pharmacists)," Chipeur said. "The complaints have caused Bizecki to incur significant legal expenses that she is currently just beginning to pay off."

An official with the Edmonton-based Alberta College of Pharmacists told The B.C. Catholic that Bizecki's case was treated as an internal matter, rather than a full-fledged investigation.

"Our college has no record of an investigating committee being appointed to investigate the conduct of Maria Bizecki," said Greg Eberhart, registrar of the Alberta pharmacists' college. "A preliminary investigation was conducted, for the purpose of determining 'fact' with respect to a number of concerns that did come to our attention. Through this preliminary investigation, avenues to prevent such concerns in the future were addressed with Bizecki."

Eberhart said that because the matter "was satisfactorily resolved in the absence of a formal investigation," it is not a matter of public record and the college is unable to comment on specifics of the case.

However, Chipeur said that while Bizecki is pleased that complaints made to the College were not taken to the level of formal charges, they did result in "significant disruption" of her career. Bizecki was suspended with pay for over a year while the Calgary Co-op looked into the matter.

She was reinstated by the pharmacy after an accommodation for her religious beliefs was negotiated with Calgary Co-op.

According to Chipeur, the agreement recognizes that patients will occasionally request services or products requiring the pharmacist to participate in activity that the pharmacist finds incompatible with his or her moral or religious beliefs. In Bizecki's case, the Calgary Co-op agreed that when faced with a morally objectionable situation, a pro-life pharmacist would be allowed to step back and allow a colleague to provide the product or service in question.

Chipeur suggested that the agreement among Bizecki, her employer, and the Alberta College of Pharmacists could set a significant precedent in Canada for health-care workers. "The accommodation that has been developed allows the public to exercise choice with respect to health-care services without requiring Bizecki to give up her choice to follow the Bible and the commandments of God," he said.

In previous interviews with Lifesite News Service, Bizecki has been outspoken about the need for a conscience clause for pro-life pharmacists.

She has also said that protecting conscience rights of pharmacists does not appear to be a priority for provincial colleges of pharmacists that license the profession, or for the associations that represent them.

"There is total freedom for women who want easier access to pills that kill their children, but no freedom for pharmacists," Bizecki has told Lifesite.

She also suggested that an individual pharmacist refusing to dispense the morning-after pill or other contraceptives would not prevent that same patient from going elsewhere to get them.

Morning-after pill advocates, Bizecki has told the Lifesite News, "want access as easy and convenient as possible; it doesn't matter about the rights of pharmacists."

B.C. pro-life pharmacists plan to launch their challenge on the freedom of conscience issue with The B.C. College of Pharmacists on the last Saturday of November, at the college's AGM in Vancouver, according to Alarcon.

To donate to Maria Bizecki's legal fund, donations must be marked "Pharmacists Fund" and made payable to Charitable Foundation of the Family, 9947 Warren Road SE, Calgary, AB T2J 1G8. Donations are tax deductible. Please indicate if a tax receipt is required. For information, call 403-278-0249.


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