Illegal pharmacists

Publié le 30 Jun, 2011

Drug VTP, euthanasia, emergency contraception …Today the pharmacist is an indispensable link to ensure the good development of numerous practices prejudicial to human life. “The pharmacist cannot renounce the requirements of his conscience in the name of the laws of the market, nor in the name of some complaisant legislations“, reminded Benedict XVI to the pharmacists on 15th September 2009 during the Global Congress of the International Federation of Catholic Pharmacists, encouraging them to assert their conscientious objection.  Yet in France pharmacists – on the contrary of all other health professionals – are been refused any conscience clause.

This is why l’Homme nouveau published in May 2011 a collective book headed by Mgr Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, titled Pharmaciens hors-la-loi (1) (Illegal pharmacists), which deals with the different aspects of pharmacist’s conscientious objection. The different authors underline the prophetic value of this resistance act which attests the value of any human life, contributes to clarify the consciences and collaborates, on a political level, to exiting the totalitarian ethical relativism.


Bruno Pichon, a pharmacist, gives his testimony of objector: in 1994, in accordance with his spouse and its sister in law with whom he works, he decided to stop delivering any contraceptive product. This decision is the fruit of a progressive awareness of the narrow link which joints contraception and abortion. Brought to justice for their conscientious objection, they will be condemned by the Court of Appeal of Bordeaux on 13th January 1998 to have “hindered the legal dispositions which protect the fundamental women freedom to control their fertility“. The judgement will be confirmed by the Court of cassation and the European Court of Human rights.

Bruno Pichon reports the difficulty for catholic pharmacists to carry on practising their job in such a context: some change of work, others adapt themselves to the best to the requirements of the law. The condemnation which haunts the objector pharmacists is yet legally ambiguous: indeed, the Code for public health, if it does not recognise the pharmacist conscience clause, does not subject them to any obligation to sell abortive products. It is a diversion of the Code of consumption which motivated the judges on the grounds that pharmacists have the sales monopoly for these products. Such a judgment is a matter of denial of care quality of the pharmacist and does not generate any obligation: the physicians who have the monopoly for abortions have, them, a conscience clause.


Abbot Jean-Pascal Perrenx, doctor in theology in the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome and doctor of medicine, clarifies the question reminding the – precise and indispensable – moral principles in matter of cooperation au mal and conscience objection. He insists particularly on the fact that this is for the pharmacist a duty but also a right that the society must recognise and protect because “besides the life of a third, the co-operator (editor’s note: here the pharmacist) compromises his own dignity and his fundamental orientation for truth and good“. Thus the pharmacist cannot absolutely sell everything: selling products only dedicated to a purpose contrary to the life must generate the objection because their use is bad per se. Moreover, the indifferent products but generally used for a bad act can only be delivered for a serious cause. Moreover, the pharmacist is not a simple merchant: for him, selling is also advising; but advice, in this case, is an express cooperation to a bad act.

Thus it encourages the pharmacists to fight for obtaining the recognition of their right to conscience objection, which is not “a problem of ‘catholic pharmacist’, but a problem for any goodwill and coherent pharmacist“.

For Pierre-Olivier Arduin, head of the commission for bioethics and human life for the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, the main contemporary obstacle to the recognition of the conscience objection is the moral relativism which makes the conscience an only subjective moral principle: “its greatest victory is that the conscience refutes up to the existence of a moral truth funding the distinction of the good and the evil, of the fair and the unfair“. Whereas European and international political authorities promote the “right” of couples to “services of reproductive health“, the conscience freedom of professionals has less and less impact. The European judges have then refused to pharmacists the possibility to justify their conscience objection by the article 9-1 of the European Convention of Human Rights on the freedom of conscience and religion: according to them, this article does not always ensure the right to act in public according to one’s own convictions, particularly when it deals with the legal sale of a product. Then pharmacists would not have to impose their opinions to justify their denial to sell these products.

Stéphen de Petiville, journalist and editor, shows that this contradiction comes from the schizophrenic distinction between two moral codes: one conviction moral code which would govern the private life, and one responsibility moral code which would govern the public act. Such a distinction finally sanctions the defence speech of some Nazi dignitaries who invoked their lack of responsibility because they just obey the duty related to their public charge. Today it finds its source in the modern political model which is the one of the liberal democracies. These are no longer based on searching a common good oriented by the natural law but on the juxtaposition of individual “rights“. Among these, the totalitarian “right to reproductive health“, which appeared during the International Conference for the population and the development in Cairo in 1994, implies that a person “may have a satisfactory and safety sexual life, is free to procreate and free to do it how often it desires it.

Joël Hautebert, professor of history in the University of Angers, specifies that the conscience objection is not a conflict between the law and the conscience, as if the conscience was an absolute. If the objector refuses to obey the prescriptions of a positive law, he does not do it in the name of a conscience free from any objective standard, but according to the natural law. Therefore, he respects absolutely the law since a “human law contrary to the divine and natural law, and a fortiori to the common good, loses its purposes and is identified to an act of violence“. Therefore, it does not oblige to the obedience. Then it is not surprising that the society ideologically relativist cannot tolerate the conscience objection which escapes, in some respects, from its empire.




If the recognition of the conscience objection is a fundamental right for pharmacists, the fact remains that it cannot be an end goal: It lies more in challenging the political modernity which, on a long term basis, requires a work of intellectual, moral and cultural thought. For all that, it is a real mean to immediately challenge the ambient relativism and must be concretely encouraged: by the creation of a financial support fund to objector pharmacists, networks of professional assistance and lawyers ready to bring proceedings to defend the objectors, by the institutional compromise of French bishops…  


1- Mgr Marc Aillet (dir.), Pharmaciens hors la loi ? L’objection de conscience face à la loi, Paris, Editions de l’Homme Nouveau, 2011

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