Monday, January 30, 2006

The Rights of the Individual vs. The Rights of the Individual

I guess this is my month for confusing issues. After using my blog to try and work out my feelings about privacy…and failing…I’m trying again on another confusing one – refusing services based on moral views.

It seems that many pharmacists are refusing to fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pills because they don’t agree with abortion, and refuse to be a part of the process. Many of their employers, naturally, have a problem with that – the company makes money off each sale, so turning away a customer is not their preferred option. So naturally, the government has begun to get involved, with a variety of proposed state laws to prevent those noble pharmacists from being punished for standing by their convictions. To add to the confusion, some of those laws appear to shield health care and medical providers from negative action in a variety of circumstances. Depending on the wording, that could include ignoring a patient’s explicit instructions as expressed in a “Living Will,” or even a refusal to provide medical care of ANY sort to a homosexual patient.

It does seem to me that the pharmacists and other health care providers have a right to obey their conscience. If you truly believe that abortion is murder and that preventing the fertilized egg from anchoring to the uterine wall is abortion, then to be forced to provide the “morning-after” pill is morally equivalent to loading the rifle and handing it to the gunman up in the tower – in both cases, you are enabling and assisting another person to commit murder. I’m not as certain about the rationale for refusing medical care to homosexuals. I can sort of understand a refusal to provide artificial insemination to a lesbian patient – some people honestly believe that allowing a lesbian to be a parent is a guarantee of harm to a child. I am a bit worried that those laws might go so far as to shield a doctor who refuses to treat a homosexual patient, thus allowing the patient to die. Is that the proper outcome of a moral decision?

On further reflection, though, I think that both the people refusing services and the legislators writing laws to protect them are wrong. Certainly, the pharmacist who objects to the “morning-after” pill has the right to object, and even the right to refuse to serve his customer – but he does NOT have the right to demand that his company support his stand. His employer hired him to fill prescriptions, not to make moral judgments. If he finds himself in a moral quandary as a result, then he should choose another profession, one that presents fewer challenges to his beliefs. The same is true for all the other health care professionals – military doctors and nurses provide treatment to enemy prisoners, surely a harder decision than providing treatment to someone who disagrees with your moral judgments. Certainly, giving up their profession may result in a drop in their income, a decrease in their standard of living – but if they are not willing to make that sacrifice for their beliefs, then why are they demanding that other people do so? I can respect someone who makes sacrifices for their beliefs. I cannot respect or accept someone who demands that I make sacrifices for them. That’s the difference between a martyr and a tyrant.

I guess that issue wasn’t as confusing as I thought.

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