Conscience Efforts

Author Emily Dietle

My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks

Pharmacists In Kansas Can Now Deny Women Access To Birth Control Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill that will allow pharmacists in the state to refuse to fill a prescription they think could be used to induce abortion. … the law’s opponents say it could allow a pharmacist to interfere with a woman’s health care by refusing to distribute birth control or emergency contraception. … and doctors can refuse to refer patients to pharmacists who would fill a birth control prescription.

These “Conscience Measures” are nothing more than conscience efforts from religious groups to restrict access to medical treatments that they, because of their religious views,  deem “immoral”. Firmly, I restate that religious bias has no place in medical decision making or policy making.

Some people think that this problem should solve itself; that “word of mouth will assure that such pharmacists will lose significant business.” It most certainly won’t, and especially not in small towns, and towns with overwhelmingly Christian populations; history has repeatedly proven this.

I’ve been asked, “Do you really want the state to dictate the specifics of what a vendor is to sell, or what products or procedures a professional is to provide?” That’s not the issue. The issue is a system where the state is creating laws that allow individuals to use their personal views (religious) to dictate how the rest of us should live. This isn’t an issue about furniture or food. We’re not talking about the government forcing your hand to sell Victorian, when you only make Shaker; or issues of kosher or non. We’re talking about decisions that impact a person’s health & well-being. When the “vendor” is a pharmacist & his/her job is to package and sell medication- it is not his/her choice to refuse to package/sell a medication based solely on their religious preference. With laws like this, what is happening is that they are forcing the general public to align to their personal beliefs. If you’re a pharmacist, your personal religious views should be kept personal, and not forced upon the rest of us.

As stated in a previous blog post, “If your religion is radically opposed to some form of medical treatment, then don’t be in the field of medicine.” The same goes for pharmacists, and any other field, if you’d allow personal viewpoints to interfere with your work or the lives of others. As Tom Shilson stated so well, “The Pharmacist is a Professional with standards of performance, as licensed by the state. To deny some people that service is contrary to the concept of a Profession.”

Contrary opinions voiced on this issue also express that, as a doctor, they would want to be able to limit their practice to those modalities to those that they’re comfortable with; and that, as a patient, they wouldn’t want their doctor “to be forced by the state to use any modalities he/she is not comfortable with, for any reason.” It seems a common sentiment amongst some (mostly with Libertarians/Republicans) that if you live in a small town, you should just suck it up and deal with the disadvantages that you face. I say if you choose to go into a profession, you damned well better keep your belief out of it, or go elsewhere. If a doctor/pharmacist/etc isn’t comfortable doing something that is part of their specialty, they should not be in that field of specialty. It is unfair for them to force personal ideologies upon the general public, and unjust for our government to protect them. If you cannot do your job because your religion interferes, the job isn’t the problem- you are.

Also, people in small towns should have the same opportunities of those in metropolitan areas when it comes to access to medication and procedures. When disadvantages due to religious bias raise their ugly head in any community, large or small, the cause must be addressed and resolved. It’s been suggested that people in small towns should turn to online prescription filling, but what is overlooked is that online shopping is not an option for many in small towns. Internet can still be a challenge to come by…and even then, you’d still need a doctor’s prescription from that small town, which could (and would likely) be denied. Again, if you can’t keep your religion out of your job, find another.

One point that several are overlooking with this new law is the nasty little part that allows doctors to refuse to refer patients to pharmacists who would fill a birth control prescription. How does one defend that? Professionals who would practice medicine this way have no business in that profession.

It is also argued that just as Christians can’t seem keep their belief out of their jobs, neither can atheists keep out their atheism, and so it follows with, “What gives me the right to demand that a believer check his beliefs at the door?” This line of reasoning is asinine though, for our secular position is the neutral position. You can keep your disbelief in deities at the door, and for religious people who cannot check their beliefs there too, must not be in a line of work where their belief compromises their decisions. When you encounter arguments like this one, keep the other party on track- get back to the real issue at hand- religious bias (and privilege) shaping our lives.

Well, “What if the pharmacist says that he or she has elected to not sell the product for some other reason, such as an economic one? Or, to avoid offending a highly religious clientele, who may boycott the store if the products are sold there, even if the pharmacist doesn’t share those beliefs?” The only reason a pharmacist should deny medicine is for medical reasons. To adhere to their ethical and professional standards- if the pharmacist has a religious objection to birth control, heart meds, whatever, he/she needs to either suck it up and do their job, or find another career. As long as the person needing birth control (or any other controversial medication) has money, a prescription, and isn’t suffering from some other illness at the time of picking up their meds that would be hazardous to also take the other meds- there is no valid reason for a pharmacist to deny their medication.

Also, if someone is offended, it’s none of their business what kind of medicine someone else is getting. No one outside of you, your doctor, and the pharmacist should be able to make my medical choices- and none of their personal beliefs should have anything to do with those decisions.

Look folks, are we really not done with this argument yet? Can people honestly not see that it’s a bad idea to allow medical professionals to make decisions about our medications (and procedures, if looking at a broader scope out from this article) based on whatever religious belief they happen to carry? Can they honestly not admit that is a really screwed up idea, with all sorts of consequences?