Initial proposals sought to "shift the balance" away from the pharmacists' conscience rights

In a U-turn on proposed policy, Britain’s pharmacy regulator has declared that Catholic pharmacists should not be forced to dispense lethal drugs against their consciences.

The General Pharmaceutical Council, the regulatory body that sets professional standards for the industry, has backed away from proposals to abolish the right of people with religious convictions to conscientiously object to dispensing the morning-after pill, contraceptives or hormone-blocking drugs used by transsexual patients.

In guidance issued last week, it says: “Professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs as long as they act in accordance with equalities and human rights law and make sure that person-centred care is not compromised.

“It is important that pharmacy professionals work in partnership with their employers and colleagues to consider how they can practise in line with their religion, personal values and beliefs without compromising care. This includes thinking in advance about the areas of their practice which may be affected and making the necessary arrangements, so they do not find themselves in the position where a person’s care could be compromised,” it said.

The initial proposals, published in December, sought to “shift the balance” away from the pharmacists’ conscience rights towards “the needs and rights of the person in their care”. The plans were criticised by the bishops’ conference of England and Wales. Helen Watt,

Helen Watt, senior research fellow for Anscombe Bioethics Centre, welcomed the new guidance, but said that it was still “very worrying” because pharmacists must refer patients for services when the pharmacist objects.