Academics say right of pharmacists to refuse to sell the pill should be abolished

The right of pharmacists to refuse to sell the morning-after pill to customers on conscience grounds should be abolished, according to academics writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Dr Cathal Gallagher, a pharmacist at the University of Hertfordshire, has written a paper with three other academics arguing that pharmacists who do not distribute the morning-after pill demand “the power of veto over the liberty of others, and over the implementation of public policy”.

Under current law, a pharmacist who is opposed to the morning-after pill can refuse to sell the pill but they must direct the customer to another provider.

But the academics argue that there is a little moral difference between a pharmacist refusing to sell the morning -after pill and a pharmacist directing a customer to where they can buy the pill.

They write: “Either the regulators must compel all pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to all suitable patients who request it, or a pharmacist must refuse either to supply Emergency Hormonal Contraception or to refer the patient to an alternative supplier and challenge any subsequent sanctions imposed by their regulator.”

Dr David Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre said: “This would destroy pharmacy as a profession and reduce pharmacists to the role of an automatic dispensers.

“As it is a key principle of medical ethics that a competent patient has a right to refuse to accept treatment so it is a key principle of medical ethics that a professional has a right to refuse to provide treatment that he or she does not think would benefit the patient. We need conscientious doctors, nurses and pharmacists, even if that means we will sometimes not get what we want.”