Americas' Health Care Crisis
Image by prudencebrown121 via Flickr

Dave Fagundes writes at PrawfsBlawg about “pharmacist protection laws“:

The logic of these laws is that they avoid forcing pharmacists into a choice between their religious convictions and their professional obligations, and at first blush that seems appealing. Yet something seems peculiarly narrow about these laws, because they don’t mandate a general exception for conscientious objection to workplace duties, but only a narrow one for a particular kind of health care professional.

via PrawfsBlawg: Principle, Politics, and Pharmacist Protection Laws.

He raises three questions related to these laws: (1) “Why should we be concerned only about religious objections to dispensing pharmaceuticals related to reproduction?” ; (2) “why should only professionals benefit from this protection?”; and  (3) “why should we be concerned only with religious objections, as opposed to other conscience-based ones?”

All excellent questions, I think, that point out weaknesses in the philosophical underpinnings of such laws. Nonetheless, they may still be useful in practical terms to implement a kind of political compromise position. That is, since enough people object to providing contraception or similar medications to block laws that otherwise facilitate access, a compromise position would be to allow for pharmacists who object to refuse to fill them without risking termination by their employer.

On a personal level, I find his question about why we provide protection for professionals like pharmacists but not for checkout clerks processing the transaction. To my mind, entry to a profession brings with it higher standards of conduct and places greater burdens on the professional. In other words, in return for greater pay, greater social standing, etc., a professional must sacrifice – to some extent, at least – their personal belief system in favor of the profession’s code of behavior. This, doctors must treat patients, regardless of whether they are mass murderers or the President of the United States. Defense lawyers must mount a vigorous defense, regardless of whether they feel their client is guilty or not. The overall societal benefit of such professional standards of conduct outweighs individual objections.

My gut says: pharmacists should also adhere to professional standards that may require individual morality to be set aside in favor of professional standards of conduct (of course, such standards must be defensible and socially beneficial, or they should be opposed and changed). I would rather allow clerks to decline to process a transanction (forcing the pharmacist to ring it up) that permit pharmacists to do so.

My head says: such laws are a potentially practical solution to gettings things done in our society today. And it is impractical to permit clerks a moral objection clause for processing transactions.