Project Logo

Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Pro-life pharmacist thought she'd be blacklisted

British Columbia, Canada

November, 2002

This article originally appeared in the BC Catholic.
Reproduced with permission.

For the past three years, Alarcon has been challenging the B.C. College of Pharmacists' Code of Ethics, which essentially requires that pharmacists violate their conscience when it comes to the belief that life is valuable from the moment of conception.
[Text of Alarcon talk]

Being pro-life in the workplace is not easy, but it's a "wonderful opportunity to give witness to the truth about the dignity of each human being," says Cristina Alarcon.

Alarcon was one of the speakers who addressed about 600 students and other pro-lifers at the recent archdiocesan schools pro-life conference.

Alarcon said in the early days of her career as a pharmacist she was spared some of the dilemmas she encounters today. She worked in a hospital for war veterans and later worked with cancer patients and on a palliative care team, where she was able to contribute to the comforting of dying patients with her knowledge of therapeutic pain control.

"I think that many people see the value of comforting the dying, and not just killing them off," she said. "Fewer people see the value and beauty of life from its very moment of conception. We know that when the weakest members of our society, the human embryos, are mistreated, our society is going badly."

Society has difficulty understanding that those who stand up for their beliefs are not necessarily seeking to impose their will on others, but simply trying not to act against their own conscience, said Alarcon.

It makes for some contradictory situations. If a pregnant woman comes to the pharmacy and asks for advice about medication for a bad cold, she is warned about the harmful effects of the chemicals in cold medicine on her developing child.

"Am I imposing a morality?" Alarcon asked.

On the other hand, if a woman demands the morning-after pill, "I tell her that I cannot give it to her because if she is already pregnant ... (it) will destroy a life that has begun.

"Now am I imposing a morality?"

Many people believe that if something is legal, it should be readily available and all trained professionals should be willing to provide the service, she said. "It's a real challenge to try to help people understand the fallacy in this way of thinking."

Freedom for all, she said, means, "I should be able to practise according to my pro-life beliefs, and the patient should be free to choose the professional of his choice."

She cited the Pope's apostolic letter Nuevo Millennio Ineunte, referring to the duty to be committed to respecting the life of every human being from conception until natural death) "For Christian witness to be effective, especially in these delicate and controversial areas, it is important that special efforts be made to explain properly the reasons for the Church's position, stressing that it is not a case of imposing on non-believers a vision based on faith, but of defending the values rooted in the very nature of the human person."

In other words, respect for human life is not based on faith, but on natural law, she said.

Another challenge is to lobby professional bodies to change their position on practitioners who object to providing controversial products or services. For the past three years, Alarcon has been challenging the B.C. College of Pharmacists' Code of Ethics, which essentially requires that pharmacists violate their conscience when it comes to the belief that life is valuable from the moment of conception.

Her initial concern that she would be blacklisted after being interviewed in the mainstream press has now given way to hope. "What I am finding is that little by little I am winning the respect of my colleagues, who, though they may not necessarily see eye to eye with me right now, can nevertheless understand my position."

Part of the problem is that many people believe the law settles moral issues. "In other words, if something is legal, it must be OK. Most people have no other compass for determining what is right and good and what is morally wrong, so once in-vitro fertilization, human cloning, euthanasia, etc., are legal, they think that everyone should be expected to co-operate in such practices."

She cited the example of Iraq, where doctors are forced against their conscience to be involved in non-medical procedures, including punitive amputations and disfigurations. In Alberta, California, Florida, Washington, and Indiana, pharmacists have been reprimanded or fired for objecting to the dispensing of abortifacient drugs, she said.

One B.C. pharmacist at a recent college meeting went so far as to state that the rights of patients to a product supersede the rights to freedom of conscience of the pharmacist, and that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to health-care professionals "because we are duty-bound to the public."

The irony is that when it comes to issues such as the sale of syringes or methadone to drug addicts, "the college leaves it up to each individual pharmacist to decide what he wants to do, but when a decision touches on whether or not I will dispense birth control, IUDs, or `the morning-after' pill, I am expected to either dispense the product if no one else is available, or refer the patient to someone who will."


Print Friendly and PDF