I always thought I’d grow up to pursue a career in law, and I probably would have made a kick-ass attorney. But as I progressed through college and the prospect of LSATs and law school applications drew near, I strayed from that path for a number of well thought out and not so well thought out reasons.
Justified or not, part of my rationalization at the time was what I perceived to be the unique ethics of this adversarial profession. As an attorney my job would be to represent my clients to the best of my ability, and I imagined myself representing corporate or criminal clients who I knew to be in the wrong, yet for whom I knew I could achieve a victory in court. I did not relish the thought of pursuing a career where the profession’s ethical obligations might sometimes run counter to what I believed to be my moral obligation.
So I chose not to pursue a career in law, and for better or worse, here I am today.
Thus I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for pharmacists who seek the right to refuse to dispense certain legally approved medications based on religious objections, and I find yesterday’s decision of the WA State Board of Pharmacy to grant such right, ethically and morally objectionable.
Of course every pharmacist has the inalienable right to refuse to dispense birth control, but the sole means of exercising that right is to choose not to be a pharmacist.
Had I been an attorney defending a client whom I steadfastly believed to be guilty of a heinous crime such as murder or rape, it would still be ethically and legally inexcusable for me to knowingly withhold an exonerating piece of evidence. As an attorney it would be my job to defend my client… not to judge his guilt.
Pharmacists are medical professionals who take an oath to serve their customers. If they believe that a prescription my have adverse interactions with other drugs their customer may be taking, they have a right and an obligation to call that to the attention of the prescribing physician. But they do not have the right to question or refuse to dispense a prescription, solely based on their on personal beliefs about what is or is not an abortifacient, or their religious convictions as to the morality of abortion or birth control in general.
Pharmacists have a professional obligation to serve their customers, and if they cannot live up to it they should choose another profession. That is the choice all of us have.
We would not entertain the notion of an orthodox Jewish counter-clerk refusing to sell cheeseburgers at McDonalds, or a devoutly Quaker military officer refusing to send his men into battle. These would be individuals who chose the wrong profession. What’s next… a Christian Science pharmacist who refuses to dispense any medication at all?
Everybody is welcome to their own religious convictions, but they do not have the right to impose it on others. I’m not sure what powers Governor Gregoire has to counter the Pharmacy Board’s decision, but if she can’t do it forthwith I expect this to be a number one priority of the Legislature next session.