The violated conscience of pharmacists

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French pharmacist Bruno Pichon was condemned in 2016 to a temporary prohibition to exercise his activity because he refused to sell an IUD, due to its potentially abortive effect.[1] He then had to quit the profession. With the help of the ECLJ, Bruno Pichon has just filed an application at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have his freedom of conscience respected (article 9).

Pharmacists are at the front line regarding the delivering of abortive products, and maybe tomorrow that of euthanasic products. Yet their right to conscientious objection is not explicitly recognised in French law, contrary to the other health professionals. This injustice has an impact on the everyday life of numerous pharmacists, who refuse to act against their moral conscience.

The ECLJ investigated to determine the extent of the phenomenon of “pharmacist objectors” in France and realised that Bruno Pichon is far from being an isolated case. Our video The violated conscience of French pharmacists presents eight testimonies of pharmacists having also suffered of the violation of their freedom of conscience.

By the “constant fidelity to their conscience maintained in uprightness and truth”, these pharmacists sometimes had to demonstrate “heroism”.[2]

Élodie thus explained: “the morning-after pill prevents the implantation and I cannot prevent this little being to live (…) in conscience, I can’t.” Just like her, her university friends who did not want to sell the morning-after pill or IUDs realised that “in practice, it is not possible”. They had to abandon the exercise of their profession or were fired.

In order to rectify this situation, 85% of pharmacists expressed their wish that a clause of conscience be added to their code of ethics.[3] The socialist government had firmly opposed this, for fear of the “right” to abortion and contraception to be questioned. Josiane, a pharmacist, considers that it amounts to scornfully saying: “you’re there just to sell boxes, just shut up and do what you’re told to.”

In our investigation, Bruno Pichon explains his request action at the ECHR: “I mainly think about the young colleagues who are obliged to quit this job that they chose, about all those who work, and would like to work in accordance with their convictions, all those people who are refused this right.” The Court will decide in the forthcoming months whether it accepts to judge this case. If so, its ruling will only take place in a few years: the ECLJ’s fight for freedom of conscience is thus long-winded.

The ECHR may in fine prove Bruno Pichon right and condemn France, in accordance with its case-law. The Court indeed asserted in 2011 that it is up to the States to “ensure (…) an effective exercise of the freedom of conscience of health professionals”.[4] Resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe confirmed the “right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care”.[5]

Read Grégor Puppinck’s study on: Conscientious Objection and Human Rights (CNRS, 2016).

Protecting freedom of conscience of health professionals, particularly pharmacists, implies to guarantee their right not to take part in an act which might harm a human life. For the ECLJ, such a conscience clause is also indispensable to the coherence of liberal societies. Indeed, the counterpart to the freedom given to individuals regarding such practices morally debated must be the right not to be forced to contribute to these practices.

Read the article of Grégor Puppinck (Le Figaro, translation): What place for freedom of conscience in liberal societies ?

The European Centre for Law and Justice is an international, Non-Governmental Organization created in 1998 and dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe and worldwide. To learn more click here



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