Doctors’ leaders have expressed concern about the growing number of students and practitioners who refuse to conduct certain medical procedures for religious reasons. Some Muslim medical students have refused to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs.
The religious objections by students have been confirmed by the British Medical Association (BMA) and General Medical Council (GMC). Both bodies stressed that they did not approve of such actions. The Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association also said they were aware of students opting out but did not support them.
However, the issue recently gained wider publicity when a leading supermarket announced that it allows its Muslim pharmacists to refuse to sell the morning-after pill to customers. At a store in Nottingham, a pharmacist declined to provide the pill to a female reporter posing as a customer. Another shop assistant explained to her that the pharmacist did not sell the pill for ‘ethical reasons’. Another high street chemist also permits pharmacists to refuse to sell the pill on ethical grounds.
The GMC and BMA say that conscientious objections should be limited to certain procedures such as abortion and some end-of-life treatments. At present, however, the only absolute right to objection under law is for carrying out an abortion.