German Pharmacist's right to act in line with conscience affirmed in landmark court trial

Posted on: January 16, 2020

Country: Germany

Are pharmacists allowed to act in accordance with their conscience? In Berlin, a pharmacist who would not sell the ‘morning-after-pill’ for conscience reasons has recently faced legal proceedings initiated by the Berlin Chamber of Pharmacists. For the first time, a German court ruled on this matter and upheld his right to act in accordance with his conscience regarding the sale of certain products. The Pharmacists’ Chamber may still appeal against the decision with the appeal period due to expire on 20 January. ADF International supported the pharmacist in this case.

BERLIN (16 January 2020)

“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,” said Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

Conscience rights of pharmacists

Before his retirement, the pharmacist owned and operated a pharmacy in Berlin. In accordance with his conscience and his deeply held beliefs, he neither stocked nor sold the ‘morning-after-pill’. This drug can prevent the implantation of an embryo in the uterus and cause the death of an unborn child. After refusing to sell the product in his pharmacy, he was reported to the Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber which took the matter to the Professional Court at the Administrative Court of Berlin.

Across Europe, the law clearly protects medical staff from participating in procedures which may violate their conscience. Pharmacists, however, can find themselves in a legal grey area when it comes to the protection of their conscience rights. No German court has previously addressed the matter. The decision is therefore of great importance for pharmacists.

Encouraging ruling by professional court

The recent hearing and judgment in the case ultimately saw the freedom of conscience of the pharmacist upheld. The court stated that the pharmacist had not neglected his professional duty and had the right to conscientiously object in such a situation.

“This is an encouraging decision by the court. It is a clear statement that the pharmacist had the right to act in line with his conscience and did not neglect his professional duty in doing so. The right to freedom of conscience must include the right to act accordingly. A free society relies upon its citizens acting conscientiously,” said Böllmann.