NAPRA, the Canadian Pharmacy Association and New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Alberta colleges or associations of pharmacy have stonewalled efforts from outside the profession to discuss freedom of conscience in pharmacy. Gordon Stueck’s invitation to serious, open dialogue on the subject is welcome (“Here we go again…” Pharmacy Practice, May 2000). One hopes it will encourage a change of attitude among those governing the profession. This is particularly important if, as Mr. Stueck states, a significant number of pharmacists object to dispensing Preven for reasons of conscience.
Mr. Stueck suggests that the proper context for such discussion is “the role of the pharmacist in today’s society”, and puts forward an argument against freedom of conscience based on economic self-interest. His primary concern is that the monopoly that pharmacists now enjoy in dispensing prescription drugs will be endangered if too many pharmacists refuse to dispense certain drugs for moral or religious reasons. What this amounts to is an assertion that economic self-interest is a greater good that should be protected at the expense of lesser goods – like freedom of conscience and religion.
Is economic self-interest a greater good than freedom of conscience and religion? Perhaps, in Mr. Stueck’s view, it is, but his view has not been dominant in the histories of liberal democracies, and it is not reflected in the Charter of Rights. The Charter guarantees freedom of conscience and religion- not economic self-interest.
Mr. Strueck’s assertion notwithstanding, public policy in Canada is rarely, in practice, determined by everyone in society, but by those in power. The rejection of the Charlottetown Accord in the nationwide referendum was a singular exception to the general rule. The results of other referenda have been ignored when they have conflicted with the views of public policy makers.
Whatever ‘public policy’ might be with respect to this drug or that, suppression of freedom of conscience and religion is not acknowledged by any authority to be a matter of public policy in Canada.
It should not become the policy of a professional association.
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project