How Religion May Affect Your Medical Care

August 28, 2009

An Illinois state court granted a preliminary injunction the other day in the case of two pharmacy owners who are trying to claim that no pharmacist in their stores has to dispense any form of emergency contraception, such as the so-called Plan B pill. (See link to news story at the end of this post.) Although not a final ruling, this decision does not bode well for those concerned about the rights of patients to obtain access to prescribed medication. A preliminary injunction is granted only when the court believes the party seeking the injunction is likely to prevail when the case goes to trial.
Claims of conscientious objection by health care professionals have proliferated in recent years. Pursuant to these claims, health care workers -- nurses, pharmacists, technicians and others, not just physicians -- demand the right to refuse to participate in any medical procedure to which they object, typically on religious grounds. For the most part, I believe these claims should be rejected.
The United States has long recognized conscientious objector status for those who are drafted into the military. For example, a Quaker cannot be forced to bear arms. But the situation of the pacifist Quaker cannot be compared to that of the pharmacist who wants to pick and choose what health care services she will provide. To begin, no one is forced to become a pharmacist or nurse. Unlike a conscripted Quaker, these individuals have chosen to place themselves in a situation where they may be required to provide services to which they object.
Moreover, not only have health care workers volunteered to provide services to the public, but many categories of health care workers also have successfully lobbied the State to grant them monopolistic privileges over these services. If you are not a pharmacist, you cannot dispense medication. "Conscientious" pharmacists want to exercise control over our access to health care and have the right to deny us health care when they see fit. Allowing a pharmacist to have exclusive control over the dispensing of medication while simultaneously retaining the right to deny medication to patients based on her personal religious beliefs is analogous to allowing critical military command positions to be staffed by Quakers and then leaving it to their discretion to decide, without penalty, whether their units will be deployed for combat.
In addition, the underlying premise of the argument for conscientious objection by health care workers is flawed. Their refusal is based on an alleged violation of their religious beliefs/personal integrity if they dispense drugs they find objectionable. Granted, a decision about whether to take a drug is a highly personal one, and should be left to the discretion of the individual. But pharmacists are not taking the pills; the patient is. Effectively, the objecting pharmacist wants to decide for others what treatment should be available. This exaggerated sense of personal responsibility for the decisions of others would lead to absurd consequences if workers in other areas could refuse to provide services on similar grounds: a librarian could refuse to stock books by noted atheists because she would be "complicit" in the immoral conduct of those who choose to read such books; a flight attendant could refuse to serve kosher meals on the plane because this constitutes "active cooperation" with anti-Christian beliefs; and Muslim taxicab drivers could refuse to transport passengers who are carrying alcohol.
Question: if a pharmacist has responsibility for my choice of medication, will she agree to pay for it?
Pharmacists who can decide if and when they will dispense drugs based on their religious beliefs are about as useful as an empty lab coat.


#1 Reba Boyd Wooden on Friday August 28, 2009 at 5:49pm

There has been a bill in Indiana on this which so far has not passed.  I sat through hearings on this a year ago.  The way some of the people who testified in favor of it defined when life begins it could also include birth control pills.

#2 Susan Gerbic (Guest) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 at 8:41am

Well written.  Personally I am happy that this is coming to the public’s attention, these unethical situations need to be discussed openly and viewed in the public sphere.  All points you made are valid, no one forced these people into this profession.  I love the comment you made about putting the Quaker in charge of the army then allowing them to decide to attack or not.  Yet I do believe that one of General Washington’s best army leader was a Quaker.

#3 konnoraiden (Guest) on Thursday September 03, 2009 at 11:12pm

Doctors are looked at as gods, but they’re not all that bright for the most part - they test dope on you because the drug companies give them kick backs. So it sure couldn’t hurt to double the number of doctors in this country. That would be a start.
Doctors are generally technicians - some have less training than a plumber gets. There’s no reason they get the fancy houses and swimming pools and the rest of us can Go Fish.Dallas tuxedo stores

#4 gwen (Guest) on Sunday September 06, 2009 at 2:17am

Konnoraiden, if you truly believe what you have written, our educational system are in more dire straits than I could have ever imagined.

#5 Lori (Guest) on Sunday September 06, 2009 at 10:54am

As a pharmacist, I took this oath:

-At this time, I vow to devote my professional life to the service of all humankind through the profession of pharmacy.

-I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns.

-I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal drug therapy outcomes for the patients I serve.

-I will keep abreast of developments and maintain professional competency in my profession of pharmacy. I will maintain the highest principles of moral, ethical and legal conduct.

-I will embrace and advocate change in the profession of pharmacy that improves patient care.

-I take these vows voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.

These people obviously do not take this this seriously and their licenses should be taken away!

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