An international gathering of Catholic pharmacists was received by Pope Benedict today at the Vatican. In his talk with them, the Holy Father insisted that health professionals must be allowed the right to exercise conscientious objection when it comes to dispensing drugs that cause abortion or euthanasia— words that are sure to impact the debate about the abortion pill in the U.S.
The Pope reminded the pharmacists that protecting human life from conception until natural death is part of their job. Benedict also encouraged them "to reflect upon the ever broader functions they are called to undertake, especially as intermediaries between doctor and patient," and upon their role in educating patients "in the correct use of medications" and in informing them of "the ethical implications of the use of particular drugs."
"It is not possible to anesthetize the conscience, for example, when it comes to molecules whose aim is to stop an embryo implanting or to cut short someone's life," the Pope said. He also warned the pharmacists against using people for experiments in ways that don’t respect ethical standards.
Pope Benedict’s words on the use of abortifacient pills come as debate on the use of the Plan-B pill (which according to its manufacturer can result in a chemical abortion in some cases) for rape victims has become quite heated in the U.S.
At the end of September, the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut decided to allow the administration of Plan B to rape victims at Catholic hospitals. They cited the scientific uncertainty of whether or not Plan B can cause a chemical abortion and the new state law prohibiting hospitals, regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs, from refusing to dispense the drug. CNA coverage here and here.
The Pope told the international gathering that individual pharmacists could always choose not to prescribe such a drug.
"I invite your federation to consider conscientious objection which is a right that must be recognized for your profession so you can avoid collaborating, directly or indirectly, in the supply of products which have clearly immoral aims, for example abortion or euthanasia," he said.
It is also important, the Pope proceeded, that pharmaceutical organizations practice "solidarity in the therapeutic field so as to enable people of all social classes and all countries, especially the poorest, to have access to vital medicines and assistance."
"The biomedical sciences are at the service of man," the Pope concluded. "Were it otherwise they would be cold and inhuman. All scientific knowledge in the field of healthcare ... is at the service of sick human beings, considered in their entirety, who must have an active role in their cure and whose autonomy must be respected."