'We insist: leave your conscience at the door'
Pharmacists dispense advice to a colleague who will not sell the morning
19 August, 2010
Reproduced under creative commons licence
I recently wrote an article expressing my delight that Washington State
pharmacists will no longer be forced to dispense products or provide
services they find morally objectionable. My elation at the Washington
victory was quickly numbed, however, when an edited version ran as a "Point
of View" on the Canadian Healthcare Network
website. It is one
thing for the public to oppose our freedom of conscience, quite another for
pharmacists to be shooting themselves in the foot.
Only 42 per cent of pharmacists who voted on the network's site agreed
that "they should have the right to refuse to sell products or provide
services they consider morally objectionable". Sadly, the other 58 per cent
believe they should be forced to do what they believe to be wrong -- "Well,
Mr. Smith, I hate to do this to you, but if you really insist, take this
overdose and don't bother calling me in the morning."
My happiness at the Washington victory was further squelched by the
plethora of intolerant, and in some cases highly dogmatic, statements posted
by fellow pharmacists. While some offered considered views that mirrored
common misgivings among the public, others shot assertions from the hip,
epitomizing the very judgemental attitude they so fear in their opponents.
"Pharmacists are to be non-judgemental" -- except, it seems, when
criticizing one another.
A common thread running through the posts is deep consternation about
conscience, showing, at the very least, that the authors have one. Yes,
every living, rational, being has this capacity for self-reflection,
regardless of dogmatic beliefs. But, alas, some have decided it is best to
leave their conscience at the pharmacy door. They propose that we all live
by one set of mores at work and another set at home.
One person writes: "If moral issues are a concern, provide a reasonable
And, were euthanasia legalized, what might that be when Mr Smith insists
on his overdose? -- "Ah, er, sorry Mr Smith, I'm afraid I cannot offer you
this service, but Frankie's Pharmacy down the street most certainly will!
Have a nice dayâ€¦ Um, see you in the next lifeâ€¦ I hope?"
"In some cases", the comment continues," you just have to separate work
from home, and the professional judgment involved cannot be swayed by moral
Yet no one makes judgments in a vacuum. What, then, will professional
judgment be swayed by: Consumerism? Feminism? Drug-company-ism? The next
Let me stress that I agree it would be unethical to deny the sick
treatment. But because neither fertility nor pregnancy constitutes an
illness, I refuse to pander to the feminist ideology that forces us to view
and treat them as such.
It is a rather scary thought, is it not, that pharmacists should leave
their morals at home. (Care to help yourself to that left over morphine in
the back of the safe? How about chewing on low-dose Concerta?) Do we want
robots in the pharmacy, people devoid of ethical or philosophical insight
who simply follow orders and take no responsibility for their actions? Did
we learn nothing from the crimes of the Nazi doctors who separated moral
judgement from professional "duties"?
If reason allows us to reflect upon our professional actions in the area
of therapeutics, moral conscience accompanies us always so we can discern
the goodness or baseness of our own actions. So, when a pharmacist decides
not to provide you with an overdose, he uses both his moral judgement and
professional judgement simultaneously.
Pharmacists who refuse to dispense products they believe to be harmful
are putting the health of the patient first. A pharmacist who will not sell
the morning after pill, for example, chooses not to stock it because he
believes that life is precious from the moment of conception. This is not a
religious feeling or belief, but an ethical opinion that is just as worthy
of respect as any other. P>What if a pharmacist decides to not dispense a
medication simply out of caprice or bigotry? The oft-cited hypothetical
example is someone who will not dispense anti-retrovirals to AIDS patients.
I can only say that no pharmacist with an upright conscience would ever deny
necessary treatment to a patient on a whim.
Sean Murphy of the Protection of Conscience
Project has summed up well the contradictory position of those who
demand ethical conformity without demonstrating "the superiority of the
ethical judgements [they] propose to force upon unwilling colleagues."
They could, he says, at least explain "how professional ethics will be
improved if the only candidates admitted to professions are those who
promise to do what they believe to be wrong."
article is published by Cristina Alarcon, and MercatorNet.com
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