ADF International


Should pharmacists be allowed to follow their conscience?

Do you have the freedom to live and speak in ways that honor your deeply held beliefs? Is freedom of conscience a license to do whatever one wants? Does this freedom undermine other human rights?

These questions are at the centre of many legal cases across the world, from Norway to the UK to the United States.

Some argue that conscience rights are a shortcut to anarchy. Others say protecting freedom of conscience will clash with rights they find fundamental.

Yet freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right. In its ninth article, the European Convention on Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right   includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The answer to these questions is clear: respect conscience! When conscience conflicts with the law, policy should respect sincerely held convictions, rather than forcing action.

Conscientious medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, often find themselves forced to choose between their own moral integrity and the law.

One of those conscientious objectors is German pharmacist Andreas Kersten. Andreas refused to stock or sell the ‘morning-after-pill’ when he owned and operated a pharmacy in Berlin. The ‘morning-after-pill’ can prevent the implantation of an embryo in the uterus and cause the death of an unborn child.

‘…[B]ecause a pharmacist serves the well-being of individual people and … [b]ecause I potentially have two lives in front of me (mother and baby), I want to serve both of them at the same time,’ Andreas says.

After refusing to sell the product in his pharmacy, he was reported to the Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber. The Chamber sued him and took the matter to the Professional Court at the Administrative Court of Berlin.

Andreas’s case was Germany’s first to address the conflict of pharmacists’ conscience rights and the law. The Professional Court upheld his right to follow his conscience when it comes to selling certain products.

“Nobody should be forced to choose between their conscience and their profession …. The court recognized that he did not violate the law and should not be forced to act against his personal convictions,” said Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

The Pharmacists’ Chamber has filed an appeal challenging the ruling.

Freedom of conscience is a safeguard for human dignity. It is the freedom to act in accordance to one’s deeply held convictions. Including the desire to protect every human life from the very start, as held by Andreas. If we aim to cultivate societies that are diverse and tolerant, we must honor the deeply held convictions of Christians and other people of religious faith, who seek to live and work in accordance with these.

In short, yes, pharmacists—as well as all other medical professionals—should have their freedom to follow their convictions respected.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.