compos mentis, "of sound mind"

With permission granted begrudgingly from the author, I published her articles in this blog in response to pleas from her fans--okay, mostly aunts and uncles--for ready access to her cogitations. As the humble president of her fan club, I am delighted to oblige.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Legislation should not limit a pharmacist's right to choose

by Elizabeth Petrik
Published Wednesday April 27, 2005 in the Amherst Student, issue 25
Advocates who consider themselves “pro-choice” should be deeply concerned about the latest news from Illinois: On April 1, responding to the demands of two Chicagoan women whose pharmacies refused to provide them with the “morning after” pill, Governor Rod Blagojevich issued an emergency order requiring pharmacies to fill all contraceptive prescriptions or risk a fine and the loss of their license. Last week, Blagojevich moved to make his order permanent.
The “morning after” pill prevents pregnancy by hindering fertilization or, if conception has occurred, by keeping the embryo from implanting in the womb. This second line of defense is the reason the issue has received such widespread attention. Many people believe that life begins at conception and that a drug that causes a fertilized egg to be flushed from the mother’s body kills a human being. The right of these people to refuse to participate in what they see as murder should not be violated.
The Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits government interference in the exercise of religion, so Governor Blagojevich has plainly acted unconstitutionally by forcing pharmacists with religious scruples to dispense the pill. But what about pharmacists whose pro-life position is not dictated by faith? The premises on which the pro-life position stands, “An embryo is a human being,” and “It is wrong to kill human beings,” are not inherently religious principles, so it is clear that this conflict is not primarily a battle between faith and reproductive rights—no one opposed to abortion, whatever his grounds may be, should be required to assist in what he sees as murder.
Kathleen Pulz, whose local Walgreen’s in Milwaukee refused to fill her “morning after” pill prescription, told The Washington Post, “I can sympathize with someone who feels strongly and doesn’t want to be involved. But they should just step out of the way and not interfere with someone else’s decision. It’s just not right.” Pulz expresses the frustration felt by many in the pro-choice movement towards those on the pro-life side: “You may disagree with what a woman does with her body,” they say, “but why can’t you let her make her own choice?” Clearly, those opposed to abortion believe that what the woman is dealing with is not her own body, and thus the decision does not rest with her; however, I believe the current issue is one on which both sides can come to terms.
A pharmacist, I think everyone agrees, has as much right to choose what she does or refrains from doing with her body as a customer seeking the “morning after” pill. If the pharmacist finds that she cannot in good conscience command her body to deliver the life-ending pill into the customer’s hands, then she is as much entitled to refuse to do so as the customer is entitled to find another pharmacy. The act of giving out the pill is no less of a private moral issue for the pharmacist than the act of taking it is for the woman. Even those who believe that a woman should be allowed to abort the child she has just conceived cannot impose their personal views on the pharmacist by insisting that she facilitate the process.
Or at least they should not do so. In a column entitled “Pharmacists’ job is to fill prescriptions,” Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald argues that a pharmacist’s refusal to dispense a prescribed drug is equivalent to a soldier’s refusal to engage in combat. A worker who is unwilling to perform “a foreseeable aspect of their job,” Pitts contends, should find other employment.
Combat, however, is more than a “foreseeable aspect” of a soldier’s job. It is his job. A pharmacist’s entire duties, on the other hand, do not consist of handing out contraception. In other words, while it is possible to work honorably and productively in the profession of a druggist without distributing the “morning after” pill, it is not possible to be an honorable and productive soldier without being willing to fight when so commanded. A soldier’s conscientious refusal to obey an order to fire upon unarmed civilians would be a better parallel to the pro-life pharmacist’s position.
Furthermore, if pharmacists are forced to dispense drugs they find morally objectionable, then well-reasoned people with strong moral convictions will cease to be drawn to the pharmaceutical profession. In general, society should be wary of rules that drive honest, intelligent people away from professions that require skill and integrity, like those that deal with the distribution of potent drugs.
Our health care provider’s right of conscientious refusal must be protected—in the name of choice.


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