The Problem With Making Your Conscience My Problem

From Milledgeville, GA:

Brittany Cartrett recently learned some bad news from her doctor about her pregnancy. She miscarried around five or six weeks along.

“So we made the decision to not do a D&C and to get a medicine. So he said I’m going to give you this medicine, you’ll take it, and it will help you to pass naturally so that you don’t have to go the more invasive route”, said Brittany Cartrett.

The doctor’s office called the Milledgeville Walmart to fill the prescription but they were told no and they were not given a reason.

As it worked out, the reason was that the drug her doctor prescribed, Misoprostol, can be used to induce abortions. Her pharmacist refused her on the grounds of conscience, which is a legal reason in Georgia.


Claims that religious based conscience should be recognized like this give me a headache. It strikes me as a gross misreading of how conscience should operate. It insists that we not only respect a claim of conscience, but that we also allow the claimant to unload the burdens of his conscience without penalty on people who don’t share it.

Imagine a person about to be inducted into the Army. This person makes a claim that he or she is a conscientious objector, meaning that this persons religious views categorically prohibit participation in war in any form under any circumstances. To have that claim recognized, this person has to go through a lengthy process which, if successful, will result in discharge from military service. The discharge will be honorable, so any vet benefits earned up to the point of discharge will be paid, but the person no longer has the right to expect a rank, a salary, or any other payments given to active duty soldiers. The objector follows his conscience and pays accordingly.

Now imagine that instead of receiving a discharge, the conscientious objector insists upon staying in the army and serving in a combat zone. This person continues to refuse to perform any violent action in support of the war, but still wants to receive combat pay, benefits, medals for service, and other honors along with the rest of the squad. Sound ridiculous? Sure. But that’s essentially what our Peach State pharmacist is doing. He’s demanding that he be allowed to follow his conscience without having to sacrifice anything for it.

I can see why the pharmacist who’d want that. Who wouldn’t want to exercise their consciences cost free? But that’s not a particularly good way for conscience based decisions to work. Because the cost of that decision doesn’t go away, it’s just shifted onto other people. A conscientious objector who insisted on staying with his combat unit would happily exercise his conscience while everybody else bears the burden of keeping themselves (and him) alive under fire. A pharmacist allowed to refuse to dispense prescribed medication shifts the burden of his conscience to patients, who suffer the inconvenience of having to go from store to store in hopes of finding someone willing to dispense medications they need and are legally entitled to.

I see no reason to respect decisions of conscience like these.

The U.S. Constitution does lay the groundwork for freedom of conscience. People can subscribe to whatever religious values strike their fancy. If anyone held a gun to a religious person’s head and demanded they become a pharmacist against the dictates of their faith, I’d be the first to beat a quick retreat to a safe distance before calling the police to rescue them. Those who don’t want to dispense medications shouldn’t be forced to.

But people with strong religious objections to acting as pharmacists shouldn’t apply for jobs as pharmacists either, or, if already employed, hold onto jobs they’re unwilling to do. Resigning in protest is a perfectly honorable course. (It is, basically, what conscientious objectors in the military do.) As for future work, if the godly want their professional lives to perfectly align with their religious convictions, they might want to consider the clergy. The hours are good, and the collection plate is an excellent source of secondary income.

More on this issue from Forbes, which contrasts pharmacists with the nurses whose ethics demanded they treat the Boston Marathon bomber.

And even more from Scienceblogs.


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