Do it anyway

More and more Canadian workers are being compelled to violate their own beliefs

 Terry O’Neill

Two of the most commonly heard expressions uttered in the name of modern egalitarian society are “workers’ rights” and “freedom of choice.” Let an employer order a non-Christian to put up Christmas decorations, and it will not be long before news-hungry media and human-rights enforcers show up in the employee’s defence (as happened in B.C. not long ago). However, a growing number of Canadian workers are being discriminated against on  conscience-related issues, and the institutions that should be protecting them are turning a blind eye to their plight. As is becoming increasingly apparent, the double standard seems to be entirely political. [Full text]

Project letter to the editor, The Province

There is a whiff of arrogance, as well as intolerance, in the BC College of Pharmacists threat to discipline conscientious objectors (Pharmacists’ college warns renegades about not dispensing morning-after pill, The Province, 23 November, 2000).

While the moral convictions of conscientious objectors are trivialized by describing them as ‘personal’ or ‘private’, many of those convictions are, in fact, shared by millions in religious, philosophical and moral traditions that have existed for millennia. If such convictions are ‘private’, those of the College are not less so, even if dressed up as ‘the ethics of the profession’. Yet the College refuses to explain – or cannot explain – why its newly-minted code of ethics (1997) is morally superior to the moral or ethical systems that it threatens to suppress.

Moreover, it is unclear why the College demands blind faith in the dogmatic judgement of its Ethics Advisory Committee. Among other things, the College has no policy governing qualifications, selection and appointment of ethics committee members, nor does it appear that any of the current committee members have formal qualifications in ethics or related fields.

Finally, the College has not demonstrated that, with respect to a dissenting minority, it is necessary to pursue a policy of institutional aggression rather than accommodation.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

 

Pharmacists threatened with discipline

The deputy registrar of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia has warned that pharmacists who refuse to dispense the ‘morning after pill’ for reasons of conscience are in breach of the College’s code of ethics. She invited anyone refused the pill to report the dissenting pharmacist to the College, presumably with a view to prosecution for a breach of what the deputy registrar called “pharmacy legislation” (The Province). The Project Administrator responded to the article with a letter to the editor.

 

Pharmacists press for freedom of conscience in British Columbia

A resolution that would allow pharmacists to opt out of dispensing morally controversial products such as the Morning After Pill gained substantial support from pharmacists at the Annual General Meeting of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia in Vancouver on October 12th. A news release from Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience noted that the loss of the show of hands vote was seen not as a defeat, but as a sign that more work is necessary.

 

Letter to the editor, Pharmacy Practice

Rosalyn Wosnick invites her readers to equate conscientious objection among pharmacists to the bigotry of a ‘deep south’ restauranteur, who argued that he had a right to deny service to blacks. (Editorial, Pharmacy Practice, July 2000) The analogy is misplaced, misrepresents the position of conscientious objectors, and is likely to engender prejudicial attitudes among their colleagues.

It would have been more accurate to compare pharmacists who have moral objections to dispensing a drug with a coffee shop owner who refuses to sell Brand X coffee to anyone, because it has been produced by child labour. The object, in both cases, is to avoid complicity in what the parties judge to be evil, regardless of the legalities involved.

However, Ms. Wosnick suggests that if a product is legal, and she wants it, other people should be made to give it to her, even if doing so would be contrary to their moral convictions. The product she is concerned about is Preven. Let’s consider a different product.

Ammunition, like Preven, is a legal product. Moreover, one has a legal right to defend one’s own home, even to the point of using deadly force, if need be. Suppose that a householder wants ammunition for defence against burglars, but a gun store clerk with moral objections to this type of crime prevention refuses to sell him ammunition. Applying Ms. Wosnick’s reasoning, the customer complains that the clerk is denying him his “right” to obtain a legal product. He demands that the clerk sell him the ammunition, or refer him to a more willing colleague, threatening to have him fired if he does not do so.

To say shotgun slugs are “legal”, however, means only that the customer is free to obtain and use them for legal purposes. It implies nothing about how gun store clerks should exercise their own freedom, even if licensed gun stores have a monopoly on the sale of ammunition as part of the state gun control system. Freedom to buy shotgun slugs – or drugs – does not mean that one is legally obliged to sell them, or to help others buy them.

If Ms. Wosnick asserts, instead, that there is a moral obligation to dispense a drug, and that this moral obligation is absolutely binding, she must identify the source of this morality. Moreover, since she would not dare to suppress the moral or ethical beliefs of others unless she was convinced that they were inferior to her own, she must explain why her moral views are superior to those that she seeks to suppress. Finally, in view of human rights jurisprudence that generally requires accommodation of belief rather than its suppression, she must explain why accommodation of those who disagree with her is impossible or undesirable.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Senator Perrault’s Bill Stalled

Senator Ray Perrault and Senator Anne Cools spoke to Senator Perrault’s protection of conscience Bill S-11 at second reading in the Canadian Senate. The chair of the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee would not support its introduction into the committee for hearing. Further efforts to introduce the bill into committee failed The Senate has now adjourned for the summer, and there can be no further progess until the fall.

 

Pharmacy Practice cites Ward, criticizes freedom of conscience in pharmacy

While Pharmacy Practice has not yet published the Project’s response, (e-mailed 13 July) an editorial against freedom of conscience in pharmacy appears in the July issue. It not only quotes Marianne Meed Ward’s accusation of selfishness with approval, but compares conscientious objectors in pharmacy to a ‘Deep South’ (USA) bigot who refused to serve blacks in his restaurant.

 

Responses to Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal

The Project submitted a response to the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, directing attention to significant errors in Frank Archer’s legal analysis of human rights law on accommodation of religious or moral belief, and challenging prejudicial remarks made about conscientious objectors in his review. A second critical article by a constitutional lawyer was also submitted to the Journal.

 

Conscientious objectors at Canadian conference told to leave profession of pharmacy

Representatives speaking up for freedom of conscience in pharmacy were told that they should leave the profession by more than one colleague at the Canadian Pharmacists Association Conference in Saskatoon. Frank Archer’s article was cited against them.

 

Attacks on freedom of conscience in pharmacy in Canada continue

The Toronto Sun published an article by columnist Marianne Meed Ward mocking the position taken by conscientious objectors among pharmacists.

In May, 2000, prior to the decision by Manitoba pharmacists, a letter to the editor of the Pharmacy Practice (an on-line publication) had argued against the idea largely on grounds of economic self interest. (See the response of the Project)

Also in May, the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, owned by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, published a column asserting that pharmacists must dispense drugs despite conscientious objection, or refer patients to a pharmacist who will The column was written by Frank Archer, described as a bio-medical ethics tutor at the University of British Columbia, and a member of the ethics committee of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia. In the same issue, the editor of the Journal declared: “Emergency contraception is here and the majority of Canadians – including most health professionals – are firmly in support. Pharmacists have a professional responsibility to help ensure safe, efficient access to all approved medicines, whatever their personal beliefs.”