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Pro-life pharmacies?

The Polish Catholic Pharmacists Association filed a bill on conscience clause for pharmacists in the petition procedure.  The pharmacist may not sell a drug if he/she believes it is incompatible with his/her conscience.  This also applies to the conscience of “owners and partners running the pharmacy”. The Association promotes the concept of “pro-life pharmacies” without contraceptives.

The project of Catholic pharmacists was already submitted (on May 26) to the Committee on Petitions.  It will decide whether the bill will be handled by Sejm .

The Catholic Pharmacists Association, to which belongs 500-800 among approx. 25 000 of Polish pharmacists, wants to add, to seven cases in which a pharmacist does not have to issue a drug, one more: “the issue of a medicinal product is incompatible with the conscience of a pharmacist, a pharmaceutical technician, or a sole proprietorship trader running a pharmacy or partners running a pharmacy”.

Pharmacists recognize that the lack of such possibility in Polish law violates the freedom of conscience protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (art. 53), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 18), the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (art. 9) and Code (of Ethics) for Pharmacists of the Republic of Poland.

However, the initiative of the Catholic pharmacists raises a lot of controversy because “there is no such thing as a conscience clause for pharmacists in the present law” – says PAN Presidium Bioethics Committee. Also, according to the Ombudsman, such practices are inconsistent with applicable law and can lead to limitation of the patients’ rights to health care services.

In response, the Chief Pharmaceutical Inspector states that: “having regard to the respect of the rights of the individual in the light of the basic law such as the Constitution, it seems appropriate to allow the pharmacist to refuse the sale of contraceptives by referring to the “conscience clause”, whereby the trader running the pharmacy in which such situation occurs is obliged to ensure the sale of contraceptives by another pharmacist”.  According to the Chief Pharmaceutical Inspectorate, consequence of the new law may not only be a significant limitation of access to contraceptives, especially in small centers, but also arbitrary interpretation of provisions, as also other drugs /including e.g. painkillers/ may be incompatible with the conscience of the pharmacist.