Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 24, 2000
Pharmacists seek to protect life
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Some pro-life pharmacists in Alberta are finding the "morning-after" pill hard to swallow and want to have the right to refuse to sell the drug.
They oppose the pill as emergency contraception because they see it as a form of abortion but fear they would lose their jobs if they don't sell it.
Preven became available in Canada in early 1999 after receiving Canada Health approval. It's called the "morning-after" pill because a woman takes it within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
Maria Bizecki, spokesperson for Pharmacists for Conscience and Pro-life Pharmacists International, said Preven works mainly after conception by preventing implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall.
"It a form of abortion because it affects pregnancy at a very early stage by preventing implantation of the embryo," she said.
"This is critical for pharmacists. We don't want to be agents of death. Pope John Paul has said we can't be involved in any health activity that leads to the death of a human being."
She also labelled Preven a "dangerous" drug that causes both breast and cervical cancer in users.
Her other concern is that the drug may become available over the counter in Alberta as it will be in British Columbia in May.
Bizecki said pharmacists with a conscience want to refuse to sell Preven without fear of reprisals from their employers.
Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience is a two-year-old loosely organized group with "several hundred pharmacists."
The Alberta Pharmaceutical Association has a code of ethics that allows members to decline to provide services on moral grounds. But Bizecki's group is concerned that there is no job protection for those who refuse to sell Preven.
"If we refuse a service on moral grounds, we want our rights of conscience respected without worrying about being fired, harassed or demoted," she told the WCR. In Bizecki's view, the code of ethics is "just too vague."
Greg Eberhart, executive director of the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association, was away in meetings April 17 and could not be reached for comment.
But in early April he told the Calgary Herald the association's code of ethics was developed with provisions for pharmacists with moral dilemmas.
The code says that a pharmacist who is opposed to providing a certain drug should direct the patient somewhere else that will.
Bizecki says referring patients somewhere else is "not acceptable because that defeats the whole purpose."
Bizecki has not yet come into contact with a client looking to fill a Preven prescription but if she does, "I will not fill it," she said.
She admitted having refused to sell other drugs that she has moral dilemmas with. She has not had to refer the clients to other pharmacies because the clients have walked off without asking.
Bizecki admits the Pharmaceutical Association's code of ethics provides some protection to conscientious objectors but it does not go far enough.
She is also concerned about a Canada Safeway statement warning their pharmacists that "If the objecting pharmacist cannot . . . provide service consistent with the requirements of their position, the pharmacist will not be scheduled to work in any store during any period of time when he or she would be the sole pharmacist on duty."
Bizecki wants Albertans to support Bill 12, a private member's bill introduced recently by Tory MLA Julius Yankowski, which would provide protection to health workers who refuse service on moral grounds. Catholics should fax, write or phone their MLAs stating their support for the bill.
The public should also pressure the Pharmaceutical Association for more tangible protection for pharmacists who refuse service, Bizecki said.