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Pharmacist saves life by exercising her conscience

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A young boy lives because of pharmacist’s birth control refusal
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

WEST VANCOUVER

Photo: Cristina Alarcon.

A West Vancouver pharmacist who for years demanded conscience protection for her profession can point to a living testament of why conscience rights are essential: the unwed mother who today is grateful Cristina Alarcon helped her see another point of view.

Ruth (not her real name) was in her thirties when in 2005 she entered Alarcon’s pharmacy, visibly distraught because she was unmarried, pregnant, and worried her Muslim family would not accept her situation.

Her boyfriend urged her to take the “morning-after” abortion pill, so the petite woman drove around looking for a place to buy it. “She was distraught and in a panic,” said Alarcon, the pharmacist who greeted her at the counter.

For health and conscience reasons Alarcon does not dispense birth control or the morning-after pill, the long-term safety of which has never been established, she said.

She refused Ruth’s request but because of B.C. College of Pharmacists rules was not allowed to explain why.

“When the patient insisted that I tell her why not, I said, ‘Well, if you’re pregnant, this is a beautiful life,’” Alarcon said.

The encounter lasted only about two minutes. “I remember clearly she had tears in her eyes, she gave me a big hug, and that was it.” Ruth left without the drugs.

Alarcon said she rarely gets requests for birth control, and the situation was so unlikely she wondered if it had been a deception. “I honestly thought I was maybe set up by the college.”

Over the years she had been particularly vocal about conscience rights for pharmacists, writing press releases and blogs, and giving media interviews. For seven years she had attended college of pharmacists general meetings suggesting ways its code of ethics could be amended to guarantee freedom of religion and conscience. Every year, her ideas were shot down.

Ten years later, the brief encounter had all but slipped from Alarcon’s memory. Then, in 2015, a petite mom and a young, healthy boy who was about her height walked into the pharmacy for a prescription.

“He was a strong boy, a little chubby, and just really cute. You could see he loved his mom,” Alarcon said. “It was heart-warming to see them together. I smiled at them and said ‘he’s a beautiful boy.’”

The woman looked up at Alarcon and, struck with sudden recognition, asked if she had been working there 10 years ago. When Alarcon nodded, Ruth exclaimed: “This is your son!”

Over lunch, Ruth explained the rest. After Alarcon refused to dispense the pill, Ruth still wanted to end the pregnancy. She asked a doctor if he would perform an abortion, but he said he would not do it. He offered to refer her to someone else.

“In the end she decided to keep this baby. The words ‘it’s a beautiful life’ helped her persevere.”

After Ruth had her son she converted to Christianity and began hosting Bible studies at her home.

“She said: ‘Now I am Christian and I love Jesus and my boy loves Jesus, too,’” Alarcon recalled. “That, to me, is the most beautiful part of the story. Yes, she got the boy, but then not only did she give life, she continues to give life through her apostolic zeal.”

Alarcon has told the story dozens of times and written about it on her blog. Some commenters have voiced harsh criticism for her refusal to dispense the pills.

“The only thing she got from me was the encouragement to realize this was a beautiful life. That’s it. I didn’t stop her from seeking a termination,” she said.

Ruth’s story has also encouraged many others, including pharmacists and doctors advocating for conscience rights.

“The whole conscience battle is not easy,” she said. “We don’t know what the impact is. The impact is bigger than we see. We only see the surface.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 08:08  

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