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

 

Project letter to the editor, The Standard

A number of health care professionals have moral or ethical objections to dispensing the ‘morning after pill’, so a recent article in The Standard (“Morning-after pill poses moral dilemma for some Mds”, 29 June 2000) is of interest beyond the community served by your paper. I would like to make two points.

First: though the drug in question was described as a ‘contraceptive’ that ‘prevents pregnancy’, many who are familiar with the action of the drug consider it an abortifacient, not a contraceptive, and object to dispensing it for that reason. Moreover, people attempting to understand the issues involved need to be aware that the words ‘abortion’, ‘pregnancy’, ‘conception’ and ‘contraception’ are often assigned completely different meanings by parties in the dispute about Preven.

Second: the good news in the story is almost too obvious for many to see. The woman obtained the drug that she wanted, and the physician was not forced to involve himself in something that he considered to be morally abhorrent. Arrangements at the hospital accommodated both her request for the drug, and his request not to have someone else’s morality imposed upon him.

This is the kind of common-sense accommodation that ought to be more widely practised.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Project letter to the editor, The Winnipeg Sun

As submitted

I am pleased to see that the Winnipeg Sun supports the principle that people should not have to dispense products that they find morally offensive. Your editorial (Pharmacological farce, 6 June, 2000) makes clear that conscientious objectors who refuse to sell cigarettes can count on your support, even though cigarettes are legal in Canada.

What remains unclear are the reasons why you insist on a two-tiered system of civil rights with respect to freedom of conscience: full rights for people who agree with you, like those who would refuse to sell cigarettes, and none for those who do not agree with you, like Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience.

However, the fact that you support the principle with respect to like-minded individuals suggests that a more tolerant and liberal attitude toward others may eventually prevail.

Contrary to the dismissive comment in your editorial, concerns that pharmacists may be forced to dispense drugs for assisted suicide and euthanasia are not misplaced. The College of Pharmacists of BC has put its members on notice about such possibilities. Legalization of assisted suicide, as well as execution by lethal injection, have led some pharmacists’ associations in the United States to adopt policies to protect conscientious objectors.

An attempt to force moral beliefs upon the populace? While that may be a fitting description of the Sun’s editorial, it is not the position of conscientious objectors. They simply do not wish to have the private morality of drug companies and newspaper editors forced upon them.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project


As Published

Objection sustained

I am pleased The Winnipeg Sun supports the principle that people should not have to dispense products they find morally offensive. Pharmacological Farce, June 6, makes clear that conscientious objectors who refuse to sell cigarettes can count on your support.

Why do you insist on full rights for people who agree with you, like those who won’t sell cigarettes, and none for those who do not agree with you, such as Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience.

The B.C. College of Pharmacists has warned members about the possibility of being forced to dispense drugs for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Legalizing assisted suicide and execution by lethal injection led U.S. pharmacist associations to protect conscientious objectors.

Conscientious objectors aren’t trying to force moral beliefs upon others. They simply do not wish to have the private morality of drug companies and newspaper editors forced upon them.

Project letter to the editor, Globe and Mail

(Not published)

Joy Thompson and Hazelle Palmer betray a fundamental misunderstanding of conscientious objection in their criticism of Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience (Don’t let drug stores become pulpits, Globe & Mail, 26 April 2000).

Pharmacists who have moral objections to dispensing the morning after pill usually assert that a new, unique and living human being begins to exist – and pregnancy begins – with the union of sperm and egg. This union they call conception or fertilization. These are hardly novel propositions in an era when fertilization is accomplished routinely in petri dishes, the resulting early embryos kept alive and matured pending implantation – or civil litigation.

The morning after pill prevents the union of sperm and egg only if it is taken in time to suppress ovulation. In other cases, it brings about the death of the early embryo by preventing implantation in the womb. This is the crux of the moral problem faced by pharmacists who hold that it is gravely wrong to deliberately cause the death of the developing human being at any point after conception.

Planned Parenthood and The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada think that the morning after pill is a good thing. They call it ‘emergency contraception’, they claim that it does not cause abortions, and they ridicule those who disagree. “Out of step with medical community”, “professionally irresponsible, or blatantly uninformed”, and “inventing a controversy” are the accusations hurled from the Planned Parenthood pulpit at conscientious objectors.

The controversy being invented here arises from a difference in terminology. Thompson and Palmer et al define conception – and the beginning of pregnancy – as implantation of the early embryo in the womb, not as the union of sperm and egg. Thus, in their view, ‘contraception’ includes not only drugs or devices that prevent conception (fertilization), but anything that prevents implantation of the early embryo. That is why they describe the morning after pill as a ‘contraceptive’, regardless of its mechanism, and insist that it does not interfere with pregnancy. In their lexicon, the existence of the early embryo following fertilization does not count as pregnancy unless implantation occurs, and the destruction of the embryo prior to implantation is not abortion. The public can hardly be expected to make sense of the present dispute unless these points are clarified.

Out of step with medical community? The Canadian Medical Association advises physicians who have moral objections to abortion to explain this to their patients, and insists that there be no discrimination against physicians who refuse to perform or assist with abortions. Dr. John Williams, the CMA’s Director of Ethics, recently confirmed that doctors are not obliged to refer patients for abortions. “Respect for the right of personal decision in this area must be stressed,” states CMA policy. Is the respect given to doctors to be denied pharmacists and other health care professionals because powerful interests are able to shout them down?

Contrary to Thompson and Palmer’s assertions, conscientious objectors are not trying to prevent the introduction of abortifacient or contraceptive drugs, nor are they attempting to block access to them. These are impossible objectives for such a vulnerable minority with limited means. Instead, they simply ask that they not be hounded out of their professions because they will not do what they believe to be gravely wrong. Does The Best Country in the World have room for such people?

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Project letter to the Edmonton Sun

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
25 April, 2000

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Mindelle Jacobs cites Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, to the effect that conscientious objectors should be driven out of the medical profession if they are unwilling to provide “perfectly legal services” to patients who want the services but can’t go elsewhere to get them. According to Jacobs, Alberta Pharmaceutical Association registrar Greg Eberhart has similar views (Pharmacists want right of refusal, Edmonton Sun, 16 April, 2000).

Well, perhaps they wouldn’t drive them out of the profession. Perhaps they’d just drive them out of the province, or out of the country. Freedom of conscience, if you insist, but not in my back yard.

Now, Jacobs is surely convinced of the truth of the moral vision she shares with Schafer and Eberhart, and of its fundamental importance. After all, she wants to impose that morality by denying conscientious objectors employment, or firing them, or forcing them to go elsewhere to make a living. One wouldn’t do such things unless the morality to be imposed was at least superior to the morality being suppressed, and unless one was also convinced of the necessity of forcing it upon others.

Unfortunately, Jacobs does not explain why her morality is superior to that of pharmacists like Maria Bizecki and Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience. Instead, she indulges in a bit of speculative scare-mongering. If “Bizecki and her pals”have their way, she wonders, “Where will it stop?”

One might also ask where it will stop if conscientious objection is suppressed. A recent bulletin from the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia (Vol. 25, No. 2. Ethics in Practice: Moral Conflicts in Pharmacy Practice) suggests the answer. Driven by the primary ‘ethical criteria’ of legality and consumer demand, the CPBC would require pharmacists to dispense drugs not only for abortion, but for euthanasia, assisted suicide and execution by lethal injection. Canada Safeway, apparently taking its ethical direction from such missives, entered the millennium by asserting that it has the right to ensure employees with religious scruples “promptly serve its customers” and not direct them to competitors for euthanasia drugs and abortion pills (Pharmacy Policies and Procedures, Section IV, Pharmacy Operations, Chapter 4, 1/1/2000, Page No. 16).

Alberta M.L.A. Julius Yankowsky has put forward a bill seeking limited legal protection of conscience for health care workers. The bill does not take any position on the morality or desirability of abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia or other controversial medical procedures. It simply recognizes that such procedures are morally controversial. It permits discussion and reasoned argument, but not discrimination or coercion.

Sadly, the reaction of Mindelle Jacobs, Arthur Schafer and Greg Eberhart to Mr. Yankowsky’s modest proposal demonstrates the need for such legislation.

“Insubordination” : Worker fired for refusing payment for illegal abortion

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Sean Murphy *

Introduction

Cecilia Moore was a probationary employee of the British Columbia welfare department when a client asked for medical coverage for an abortion. The abortion would have been a criminal offence under the law in force at the time, and was, in the view of the attending physician, not only unnecessary for medical reasons but actually contra-indicated.

Moore refused to approve coverage on the grounds that the client was ineligible under departmental policy. However, her supervisor ordered her to sign authorization for coverage. Moore persisted in her refusal, citing policy, the criminal law and her own conscientious objections to abortion. Although rated as “an excellent worker”, she was dismissed.

Seven years later the BC Council of Human Rights ruled that Moore had been a victim of ‘adverse effect discrimination’ awarding $7,703.80 for compensation in lost wages and $1,000.00 as compensation for “humiliation.”

What follows is a summary of the facts drawn from the reported case and a summary of evidence prepared for the hearing. [Full text]