Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

megan.mullett

Can I both support a pastor’s right to refuse to marry people and oppose a pharmacist’s right to refuse to dispense prescriptions? Or does support of one logically require support of the other?

Ever since I first learned about “conscience clauses,” which allow
medical providers to refuse to provide medical treatment or referrals
based on their own personal beliefs, they have fascinated me. I find
pharmacist refusal clauses to be particularly interesting. While I
whole-heartedly support each and every person’s right follow his or her
conscience, I, as an RJ advocate, can’t help but notice that one
person’s conscientious refusal is another person’s barrier to obtaining
a necessary reproductive health service (for example, emergency
contraception).  In rural communities, which may only have one pharmacy
or pharmacist, a conscientious refusal can altogether prevent
women from obtaining the health care services they need. I find myself
thinking, “you are a pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions and
behind-the-counter medication is your job – so do your job.”
Nonetheless, I am uncomfortable compelling individuals to perform an
action merely because that action is a commonly accepted practice in
the profession.

A perfect case-in-point is the emerging “Refuse to Sign
campaign. Begun by clergy in Ohio, the Refuse to Sign Campaign seeks
“the separation of church and state by advocating equal marriage rights
for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, by encouraging faith
communities, and their leaders, not to sign state-issued marriage
licenses.” Some religious leaders are merely refusing to sign the
licenses; some are refusing to perform marriage ceremonies at all.
Following my pharmacist refusal logic, I should think that performing
marriage ceremonies is the clergy’s job, and they should do it. But I
don’t. I realize that the analogy isn’t a perfect fit, but it raises
some interesting questions for me. Can I both support a pastor’s right
to refuse to marry people and oppose a pharmacist’s right to refuse to
dispense prescriptions? Or does support of one logically require
support of the other?

Supporting the clergy’s refusal and opposing pharmacists’ refusal is
logically consistent from an RJ perspective – we support both the right
of all to enjoy equal protection of the law and we support equal access
to contraception. But is it logically inconsistent from a moral
perspective? If I believe, as I do, that everyone should follow his or her conscience, do I have to support the effects of doing so?

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