German pharmacist’s conscience rights affirmed in landmark court ruling

A Berlin pharmacist has won a landmark court victory defending his right to refuse to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ on the grounds that doing so would violate his conscience and deeply held beliefs.

The Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber had brought legal proceedings against the pharmacy owner to the Professional Court at the Administrative Court in Berlin but, in the country’s first ruling on the conscience rights of pharmacists, the German court found  he had not neglected his professional duties and had the right to conscientiously object in such a situation.

The European Convention on Human Rights protects medical staff from participating in procedures which may violate their conscience, but up until now the protection of pharmacists’ rights were considered a grey area in Germany.

The pharmacist, who is now retired, was opposed to selling the morning-after pill because of its abortifacient effect, sometimes preventing the human embryo from implanting and thereby causing an abortion.

Commenting on the case, Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International, said “Nobody should be forced to choose between their conscience and their profession.”

“The conscience rights of pharmacists are often, and sometimes deliberately, ill-defined in national law. Nevertheless, the right to act in accordance with one’s conscience is a fundamental right and pharmacists should be protected. Personal beliefs and conscience influence all areas of a person’s life and are not simply laid down in a professional setting. This pharmacist in Berlin faced legal proceedings for choosing to act in line with his conscience. The court recognized that he did not violate the law and should not be forced to act against his personal convictions.”

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