Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Standing up for your beliefs

Presentation at St. Thomas More High School
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
29 November, 2002
Reproduced with permission

Cristina Alarcon*

I am supposed to speak to you today about what it's like to be pro-life in my workplace (in my profession).

All I can say is that :

It is not easy.

It is a real challenge.

And it is a wonderful opportunity to give witness to the truth about the dignity of each human being, from conception to natural death.

In my early years as a pharmacist I did not have to deal with such issues as birth control and abortion because I worked in a hospital for war vets. Later on I worked with cancer patients and was on a palliative care team, where I was able to contribute to the comforting of dying patients with my knowledge in therapeutic pain control. (I even accompanied a dying patient together with her doctor and nurse because she had no family and was all alone leaving this world).

I think that many people see the value of comforting the dying, and not just killing them off.

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.

Now, what are some of the challenges I face as a pharmacist?

Have you ever heard the expression: "Don't impose your morality on me"?

When interviewed re: abortion in Canada, P.M. Jean Chretien, being a Roman Catholic, stated that he did not wish to impose his morality on Canadians.

  • When you stand up for your beliefs, people often assume that you are imposing something on them. (makes them feel uncomfortable

  • They often cannot understand that you simply do not want to act contrary to your deeply held beliefs, or against your conscience, and that you have no intention of stopping them from getting what they want, but simply want no part in it

I want to point out to you two different scenarios that I encounter at work:

1- A woman who is obviously expecting a baby comes into the pharmacy requesting advice about medication for a bad cold. I warn her about the harmful effects of the chemicals in cold medicine on her developing child. (Am I imposing a morality?)

2- A woman comes into the pharmacy demanding that I give her the morning-after pill. I tell her that I cannot give it to her because if she is already pregnant (in other words if sperm has already met and fertilized egg), the over-dose of birthcontrol pills will destroy a life that has begun. (Now, am I imposing a morality?)

Keep in mind that a lot of people out there believe that if something is legal, or socially acceptable, then it should be readily available, and that all trained professionals should be willing to provide the service.

It's a real challenge to try to help people understand the fallacy in this way of thinking.

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

The notion of freedom of conscience is very misunderstood today. Can you believe that one fellow on our Ethics Committee actually wrote that because thieves, murderers and rapists follow their conscience and look at what they do, therefore this proves that no one should have freedom of conscience as a basic human right?

However, we all have an inherent capacity to choose the good freely, and this is what is meant by freedom of conscience.

It is a real challenge to help others understand this!

In the Apostolic Letter of the Holy Father Novo Millennio Ineunte, referring to the duty to be committed to respect the life of every human being from conception until natural death). He says :

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 (healthy civilizations have always agreed on the principle that men should not kill one another).

So another challenge is to help others understand that human dignity is not rooted in religion alone, and that equal respect is owed to each human being.

A third challenge has been the lobbying of College councilors to change their position towards those who object to providing controversial products or services.

For the past 3 years I have been challenging our Pharmacy Licensing Body's Code of Ethics, which basically asks pharmacists to violate their conscience, to violate their deeply held belief that life is valuable from the moment of conception.

When the public media interviewed me for the first time two years ago about my views on the morning after pill, I thought for sure I would be blacklisted. However, 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 that you and I face today is that many people regard public laws as settling 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 that in vitro fertilization, human cloning, euthanasia, etc., are legal, they think that everyone should be expected to cooperate in such practices.

Take the example of Iraq, where doctors have been forced against their conscience by their governments to be involved in non-medical procedures. They were required by law to amputate the ears and brand the foreheads of deserters. Doctors were told that if they refused, they would suffer the same fate.

Already in Alberta, in California, Florida, Washington, and Indiana, pharmacists have been reprimanded or fired for objecting to participate in the dispensing of abortifacient drugs. Although some health care professionals have successfully won lawsuits against their employers, they have endured psychological and financial stress in the process.

Over the years there has been a shift in health-care ethics, influence by intense individualism.

The prevalent ethical principle in healthcare has become patient autonomy or self-sufficiency. Now of course, this is good up to a point. The limit is if a patient wants to harm him/herself. The usual thing is that the patient would be sent to a psychiatric ward. However, the trend around the world today is that if the patient is lucid and knows what he wants, then the healthcare professional should be willing to provide it. (after all it's your body, it's your decision)

Although healthcare professionals have been traditionally seen as healers, protectors against disease, and counselors on healthy lifestyles, the trend to push us to become disrespectful of human life is very strong.

It is becoming increasingly important for pro-life healthcare workers to acquire some form of solid legal protection, otherwise our society will become devoid of pro-life health care, as licensing bodies or colleges are increasingly hostile to those who refuse to provide legal, but controversial services.

Of interest is that a pharmacist at a recent College meeting I attended went so far as to state that the rights of patients to a product supercede the rights to freedom of conscience of the pharmacist, and that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to healthcare professionals because we are duty-bound to the public. Of course this position, and that of our College is totally illegal.

Now what I have been lobbying the College for is not to ask it to block access to certain products, but that the College respects the professional's freedom to follow his/her conscience in matters that pertain to morality and religion, protecting them from forced participation.

Its funny that when it comes to other things 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 MAP, I am expected to either dispense the product if no one else is available, or else refer the patient to someone who will.

The mission statement of the BC College of Pharmacists is:

  • "Safe and effective pharmacy practice outcomes for the people of British Columbia"

So, my question and yours should be, why should pharmacists be forced to participate in an action that is meant to harm human life (as in the sales of abortifacient drugs), which is certainly also detrimental to the common good of our society?

I believe that in the end, as in " The Lord of the Rings", good will triumph over evil; with God's grace and our tenacity, the culture of life will overshadow the culture of death.