Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Conscience.

I read a while ago about a case of a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription on the basis that the drug prescribed is sometimes used in post-abortion care. He didn’t know whether the patient had actually had an abortion or not — there are, after all, rules about patient confidentiality, and it was a nurse rather than the patient herself who made the request — but he exempted himself from the requirement to do his job nonetheless, because the law allows health professionals for whom abortion is against their beliefs to refuse to provide services.

I’m sorry, what? Isn’t America (where this incident occurred) supposedly a free country, where people are entitled to not experience discrimination in the provision of services? Where the right to be served is so ingrained in the culture that when they come to our country they are seen as presumptuous and demanding?

I respect the right of everyone to act in accordance with their conscience, or at least to refuse to act against it — if someone’s conscience called for revenge killing, we aren’t OK with that, but I agree that a person shouldn’t be forced to do something that goes against his conscience.

BUT, when you sign up for a job you take on the responsibilities involved. If you are unable to take on those responsibilities, you shouldn’t be signing the contract; if you take the job and then refuse some of its requirements on grounds of conscience, you are violating your contract. Ordinarily, if something like that happened, you’d be fired. Now, I’m aware that some people will have been in the business since before abortion was legal in their area. But I don’t think that changes anything, as that change would have resulted in a functional, if not a written, addition to their contract. (I’m using “contract” more in its moral sense than its legal one here, so the idea of an unwritten one is not as counterintuitive as it might seem.)

In a free society, people have the right not to provide abortion services; but if they don’t want to do that, then they shouldn’t be in a job that might require them to. A free society in turn has the duty to say to an anti-choice doctor “you’re not doing your job” and replace them with somebody who will. If being a pharmacist means sometimes filling prescriptions for abortion patients, then someone who isn’t OK with this shouldn’t be qualified to be a pharmacist, because they are unable to actually do the job.


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