Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ouch, the religious 'conscience' is at it again

In that never-ending saga of special rights for religious folks, here's the latest installment. The Washington Post reported yesterday that there is a growing number of pharmacies refusing to stock condoms, birth control pills, the morning-after pill and the like. 'Pro-life' pharmacies as they're misleadingly called have decided to pass moral judgment about patients' needs and have decided to meet only some patients' needs but not others.

Whatever medical needs they choose to meet is entirely based on their arbitrary conscience instead of something usually called professionalism. So, here we have people whose job it is to dispense prescription drugs (like the pill), and who have been given a monopoly by the state for the provision of prescription drugs. Pops God in and professional conduct goes out of the window. They decide to provide only some medicines but not others.

Let me do a quick reality check here: Reportedly the Christian God isn't too keen on guys having sex with each other either. As it happens, sometimes while guys have sex with each other, condoms break and a quick visit to the pharmacy becomes necessary in order to order to access HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (the kinda cool acronym is PEP). Well, are the conscience pharmacies going to provide such medicines? How will their conscience based service provision lottery pan out on this one? Or, imagine a gay guy who's developed AIDS and needs to purchase AIDS drugs, will he get them or will the cross wielding pharmacists tell him to take a hike? What about pharmacists who belong to a white supremacist (aka aryan) church? Are they no longer obliged to serve minority ethnic folks because their good conscience tells them not to? What if the conscience pharmacy is the only one by a long stretch and people have no choice other than to go there, is it really acceptable for them to abuse their monopoly in such a manner as to force their bizarre views of the world on their clients?

The central issue here is that professional conduct, particularly from providers with a state guaranteed monopoly, can't reasonably be held hostage to arbitrary individual decisions, be they grounded in conscience or anything else. We have every right as a society to expect uniform services from pharmacists across the country and we have every right to refuse to accept an on-going opt-out lottery by people who hold strong views on some kinds of patients or others. If they do not wish to provide comprehensive health services their license should be revoked. End of story.

Oh well, conscience bizarristan in action - as ever in the USA near you.

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