MDs, pharmacists should follow conscience
B.C. Catholic, 25 June, 2001
Reproduced with permission
Dr. DeMarco, who teaches at St. Jerome's University
in Waterloo, Ont., said that society has been legally and historically
inconsistent by allowing only some people to act with a moral conscience. "I
think our society is very confused. It wants conscientious people, but not
people with conscience. I think it's a contradiction."
Canadian Physicians for Life have strongly rejected a statement from
Planned Parenthood in Alberta that pro-life doctors who don't wish to do
abortions are obliged to refer patients to their colleagues for the
"Even doctors ethically must make referrals for abortion services whether
they morally support that or not," Melanie Anderson, a spokeswoman for
Planned Parenthood Alberta, told CTV June 2.
However, Dr. Will Johnston, president of the pro-life doctors, says
correspondence with the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons registrar
Dr. Larry Ohlhauser clearly states that "physicians do not have a
professional obligation to refer a patient for an abortion."
Dr. Johnston noted that, while the Alberta College of Physicians, as well
as the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Medical Association, requires that
physicians inform a patient when their own moral code would influence the
recommendation or practice of any medical procedure that the patient needs
or wants, the idea that physicians must refer patients for abortion services
"is not true."
Pro-life physicians, he added, should declare their personal views to a
pregnant patient considering an abortion "in order to place the subsequent
discussion in context.
"The doctor then has every right, indeed, a responsibility, to outline
the potential mental and physical risks of abortion just as he or she would
before prescribing a drug or weighing the merits of surgery."
The risks of an abortion, said Dr. Johnston, include a higher than normal
incidence of breast cancer. More than 30 studies, he noted, indicate
abortion increases breast cancer risk by at least 30 per cent, and
considerably more in the case of first pregnancies. According to one report,
said Johnston, teenagers who abort their first pregnancy increase their risk
of breast cancer by six times.
That idea was rejected by Planned Parenthood's Anderson, who said that
such statements by Canadian Physicians for Life are "irresponsible and full
"There is no significant correlation," said Anderson, "between abortion
and breast cancer." She went on to add that post-abortion stress syndrome is
not backed by scientific data.
Dr. Johnston vehemently disagreed, noting that post-abortion emotional
trauma is a real event. He suggested that "most doctors do not inform
pregnant women of abortion's proven dangers.
"Are patients being warned that some physicians' ardent pro-abortion
beliefs bias the counselling process? For a woman to make a truly informed
decision, she must be presented with the facts of human embryology of her
unborn child so that she will know that what she is aborting is a human
being, not just a clump of cells or a piece of her own tissues. Withholding
basic information shows disrespect for women and is both dishonest and
patronizing, since it implies that women are too weak to know the truth."
He went on to say that the suggestion that the "morally troublesome
issues need only be referred to a colleague is oblivious to the principled
objections of pro-life physicians."
Increasingly "exotic" reproductive technologies, he added, "may
eventually offend even the most laissez-faire physicians. There may come a
day where no physician feels free from coercion to violate his or her
The issue of freedom of conscience is also affecting pharmacists who
object on moral grounds to dispensing the "morning-after" pill, according to
B.C. Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience spokeswoman Cristina Alarcon.
Last December, under the former NDP government, this province's
pharmacists became the first in Canada to receive sanction to hand out the
abortifacient without a doctor's prescription.
Alarcon noted that her group had made a presentation last October to the
B.C. College of Pharmacists requesting that the body's Code of Ethics be
changed to allow pharmacists to follow their consciences if they had moral
objections to dispensing any prescriptions. A majority of the delegates,
however, voted against the proposal.
"We now feel that we have no choice but to turn to the media to tell our
story as the appropriate venues to state our concerns have not been
successful. It is of public interest that pharmacists are prescribing this
drug regimen for either immediate or for future use. If for future use, this
defeats the purpose of having a pharmacist oversee that the drug is being
used under the right conditions. We will be lobbying our colleagues, helping
them to realize the dangers of giving out medications for which no
controlled clinical studies have been carried out with respect to safety of
She says she disagrees with the conclusions drawn by the B.C. College of
Pharmacists that the morning-after pill doesn't cause abortion.
"While it is true that the morning-after pill will not dislodge an
implanted human embryo, it can nevertheless destroy it by preventing it from
reaching its nesting place. It does therefore qualify as a chemical
abortifacient. This is the information that should be made available to the
public and to pharmacists who are being trained to prescribe these pills."
Like pro-life doctors, pro-life pharmacists object to being asked to
refer their patients to colleagues who will dispense the drugs. Alarcon says
her group is especially concerned that a requirement to do so may one day
become a condition of employment.
Speaking at an anti-abortion conference organized by Campaign Life
Coalition of Nova Scotia, Ontario philosophy professor Dr. Donald DeMarco
urged pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill
if they are anti-abortion.
Dr. DeMarco, who teaches at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ont.,
said that society has been legally and historically inconsistent by allowing
only some people to act with a moral conscience.
"I think our society is very confused. It wants conscientious people, but
not people with conscience. I think it's a contradiction."
Concerned Pharmacists for Conscience, meanwhile, says it will continue to
fight to have the right to refuse to dispense abortifacient drugs recognized