A ‘conscience clause’ to legitimise discrimination

March 25, 2010

The BBC News website has published a story which talks about the likely introduction of a so-called ‘conscience clause’ which could be used by dispensing pharmacists to “refuse to prescribe items that might clash with their personal religious beliefs”. In other words, it seems likely to enable discrimination by pharmacists.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is to take over the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the registration of pharmacy premises from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society later this year.

Under its new code, pharmacists with strong religious principles will still be able to continue to refuse to sell or prescribe products if they feel that doing so would contradict their beliefs.

The use of the word “still” in the above quote might seem to suggest that discriminatory practices are already happening – and indeed the BBC refers to “a woman denied the pill by a Sheffield chemist”.

Although the BBC’s story specifically refers to “items such as the morning-after pill and contraception”, when I think about the recent attempt by the religious Right to perpetuate gender identity discrimination in Europe, it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see how the ‘conscience clause’ could be invoked as a way of, for example, refusing to fill hormone prescriptions for trans people.

For those who are discriminated against in this way, and who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, there’s always the option to buy essential meds from online sources. However, self-medicating has its own risks and may also result in people simply disappearing from the healthcare system; not receiving regular checkups; blood, hormone and other monitoring tests, etc, and running the risk of becoming seriously unwell. I’d like to know on whose conscience would be the death of even one trans person as a result of the application of this clause as a mask for their own prejudices.

Anecdotally, I’m well aware of the anger of many trans people towards a system that already seems to favour gatekeeping over facilitation, and I can only hope that this iniquitous ‘conscience clause’ does not become common currency as a way of upholding the personal prejudices of those pharmacists who may hold transphobic views, without actually being required to come to terms with their bigotry.

As Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, says:

“It seems incredible that pharmacists can arbitrarily tell people that they won’t serve them with medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.”


(Estradiol molecule image via Wikipedia)


ETA: Related post:


An abridged version of this piece is cross-posted at The F-Word


One Response to “A ‘conscience clause’ to legitimise discrimination”

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