Sunday, July 16, 2006

WP: A Medical Crisis of Conscience

A few years ago here in Denton, Texas (where I attend the University of North Texas), a young woman who had been raped was denied the morning-pill at a local CVS pharmacy by a pharmacist who cited his religious convictions in opposition to dispensing the medication. As you can imagine, this incident started quite a stir in the community and the state, and the above-linked article brings up several examples and the controversy over - how the article frames it - "religious freedom vs. patients' rights."

Certainly seen in this view it is a complicated matter. No one wants to force people to do what they are opposed to, especially out of religious conviction, but at the same time, professionals have a professional duty and responsibility to their patients. And how far can it be taken anyway before it's completely unnacceptable? Many are sympathetic to Christian pro-lifers who don't want to be involved in anyway with abortion, but what if it was a scientologist who didn't want to dispense anti-depressants? Furthermore, many would argue these patients can simply be helped by other people, but as the article points out, the people who would deny them can also rationalize not referring them to other health professionals who wouldn't.

I have to say my personal feelings lean towards that of the side that says maybe if you're in a position where you don't feel you can discharge your professional responsibilites you shouldn't take them on in the first place. But what this article overlooks is the actual legal situation.

Currently, it's not illegal not to dispense the morning-after pill, etc. I don't think anyone's in favor of making it so either. But what some in the legislature here in Texas, and in other states, pushed for was a law that would have prohibited CVS from letting go the pharmacist that refused the rape victim the morning-after pill.

Now while I would never want anyone to be forced into participate in something they thought was morally wrong, I don't think they should be given special protection for doing so either. If CVS felt that they needed to replace this pharmacist, they should't be prevented from doing so. I think it's easy to see how whether their actions were understandable or not, that's unreasonable, and probably why enough conservatives opposed the Texas bill for it not to pass.

What pharmacies and hospitals do need to do is make sure they come up with policies to deal with these types of situations. I would hope some reasonable solutions can be found.


Xanthippas said...

I agree with you completely. I don't wish to see people do things they don't agree with morally, but at the same time medical professionals have a duty to aid those who take actions they find morally objectionable. They take this duty upon themselves by deciding to work in the medical field, and if they're uncomfortable with some of the things they have to do, well they should consider another profession. Soldiers do not get to choose which wars they fight in; neither should pharmacists/ambulance drivers/doctors be allowed to choose who they will and will not provide help to on the basis of a single moral issue.

Nat-Wu said...

I think we might have sufficient reason for the state to compel cooperation in that instance. We don't have any more water fountains that say "negros" or "whites only". Such discrimination is not to be tolerated, whatever one's moral beliefs. If the pharmacist can't fulfill his role without violating his moral code, let him find a line of work where it's not necessary for him to do so.