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Freedom of Conscience and the Pursuit of Happiness Can Go Together.

Posted by Chance on September 18, 2006

The Cato Blog discusses how some people think doctors should be forced to perform abortions or pharmacists to provide birth control, even if it violates their conscious. The blog states:

Some doctors say it violates their conscience to perform abortions or provide artificial insemination for unmarried or gay people. Some pharmacists believe that the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and their religious commitment forbids them to dispense it.

And now some patients and activists are demanding laws to force health professionals to dispense the care the patients want, no matter how it violates the health worker’s conscience. Activists who march for a woman’s right to choose want the government to overrule a pharmacist’s right to choose.

Now, some make the argument that no one is required to be a pharmacist or doctor, and that if they want to pursue those occupations, then they have to take on those obligations as well as those privileges. Okay, I understand that argument, but I don’t think people have to choose one or the other: freedom to live by their conscious OR pursue their dream, whatever that may be. As David Boaz says,

In a country of 290 million people and 14 million businesses, we should let these issues sort themselves out in the marketplace. Chances are that major drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreen’s are going to insist that their stores fill all prescriptions. If they have more than one pharmacist on duty at a time, then they may be willing to tolerate pharmacists who avoid filling certain prescriptions. If they do insist that all pharmacists be prepared to fill any prescription presented by a customer, then pharmacists who can’t accept such rules will have to look for jobs elsewhere. And if customers encounter a pharmacy that won’t give them what they want, then they will have to find another pharmacy.

Now, some people live in small towns, where they do not have easy access to the doctors or pharmacists they want. But birth control, for instance, is a service, it is not an entitlement. We are not granted the right to have sex without the possibility of getting pregnant.

Boaz also points out some counter examples for liberal-leaning folk, just to bring the point home. Should anesthesiologists be required to take part in a state execution?

Boaz also brings up the issue of how state intervention leads to more state intervention.

this is an example of how one state intervention generates the demand for additional interventions. We say you can’t be a pharmacist unless you get a state license, and now you want to say that that license should empower the state to impose morally offensive obligations on those who were required to get the license.

I don’t think the state should demand people to disobey their conscious to pursue an occupation that may be their life’s passion. Some may argue that the state has a right to impose such moral expections upon people pursuing certain fields, but I don’t think we even need to demand such a sacrifice from people. There are enough people in each field to meet the demands of a plurality. Yes, it may be more challenging for some people based on where they live, but we should not feel entitled to such services.

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12 Responses to “Freedom of Conscience and the Pursuit of Happiness Can Go Together.”

  1. Dan Trabue said

    I’m with you on this. Doctors ought not be made by law to perform procedures against their moral perspective. Just like soldiers ought not participate in wars when a particular war is against their moral perspective or any of dozens of other perspectives.

    Now a given company has a right to expect their employees to do what they want (within legal bounds) and can fire an employee for not complying. If a doctor worked for a hospital and performing Operation X is against that doctor’s ethics, then the hospital has the right to fire that doctor (although that may not always be the wisest choice).

    If my company asked me to perform job X and it violated my moral underpinnings, I’d be free to leave or face firing or comply.

    But, if I’m a free agent, I don’t want the gov’t telling me what actions I must or must not do.

    So I’m with you on this issue.

    Are you with me on my military example?

  2. The Prophet said

    Chance, Good Post. I agree with you, and I believe a free marketplace will take care of this problem.

    Anytime a business disagrees to do something for a customer, other businesses open to provide the means to meet that need. That’s business. If there are as few regulations as possible, it’s just better for the customer.

  3. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    I worry about the people in small towns. You say birth control is not a right. Does this mean that choosing to limit one’s family size is a privilege reserved for city dwellers?

    Often rural populations will force any pharmacist who fills birth control prescriptions out of business.

    Abortion is another matter. One can travel to get one fairly easily. However, what about emergency abortions–almost the only kind I think are morally legit. If an abortion is needed to save the life of a mother and no doctor is available whose conscience allows him to perform one, do we just let woman die?

    This would worry me less if we were having this conversation in, say, 1978, when abortion was widely available. But now that the political climate and years of clinic bombings, protests, etc., have reduced the number of clinics in some cases to one or two for an entire state, I worry about the availability for rape, incest, and life-threatening cases.

    I want to reduce the number of abortions by working to reduce the reasons women seek them.

    But I’m conflicted here. Doctors and pharmacists following their conscience seem to be limiting the consciences of their patients.

  4. Dan Trabue said

    Not as long as there are doctors out there willing to do what some aren’t.

    Let me ask it this way, Michael: If 100% of the doctors out there were opposed to performing abortion, would you support a law requiring some of them to perform them?

    Again, I’m opposed to gov’t-imposed requirements on any work group. It is an interesting theoretical dilemma.

    What if 100% of firefighters were opposed to putting out fires at mosques – would we want to force them to do so? I’d say yes, in that case… The difference? Lives being at stake? Well, the doctors might make the same argument (as might those wanting to force doctors to perform abortions). hmmmm…

    But in reality, I’d think that there’s enough diversity in any field that people would have choices.

  5. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Okay, so would we agree to a tax-supported program to encourage at least one pharmacist willing to sell morning after pills to locate in every county of the U.S.? To locate women’s health clinics (including abortion services) in every state?

    That would not be imposing on consciences, but it would increase the choices available in rural areas–where the market is least likely to provide alternatives by itself.

    Of course, if we also invested in better sex education in rural areas, gave supports so that pregnant teens could continue school, worked on job creation, pre-natal care, etc. then the abortion rate would also drop at the same time.

  6. Chance said

    Dan,
    I am in total awe. We have found something we can agree on 🙂 (Actually, theologically I am sure there are plenty of things, but politically, well, not so much).

    Concerning the military, formerly, I would have had the opposite opinion, but I think this issue in the free market has turned my opinion around, for the same reasons…freedom of conscience.

    Michael, in my view, true freedom does not require things from other people. My freedom extends to where another’s ends. This is not an argument for pure libertarianism that takes this logic to its fullest, but when choosing who has what rights, it is best to go for the negative freedoms.

    “Does this mean that choosing to limit one’s family size is a privilege reserved for city dwellers? ” I could ask a similar question. “Is freedom of conscience only a luxury for city doctors?”

    Dan gives a good example of the firefighters. Exceptions can be made when someone’s life is in danger. I would say that in the situation where a baby threatens the mother’s life…well, it is best that a hospital pick their doctors carefully. That is a tricky issue there, because I would leave it up to the mother if the baby threatens the life of the mother.

    This is an interesting discussion, thanks for taking part.

  7. Chance said

    Prophet, nice to see you. Can you tell me which stocks are going to do well this week, or are you here to simply foretell judgment from Babylon?

  8. The Prophet said

    Fall on your knees and repent! Cover your bodies with ash and lament in the streets, oh ye sinners! For the time of Hillary Clinton is near!

    How’s that, Chance?

  9. The Prophet said

    Any stock that the Bush Administration has a share in will do well… at least as long as we’re in Iraq.

    Hear the Prophet and know the truth.

  10. Dan Trabue said

    “Concerning the military, formerly, I would have had the opposite opinion, but I think this issue in the free market has turned my opinion around, for the same reasons…freedom of conscience.”

    I see this as one of the problems of the military as we have conceived it: It really regulates AGAINST freedom of conscience. You can be a CO if your faith makes you believe that ALL wars are wrong. But not many of us think this way.

    But it is much more likely that any individual soldier may find some particular war wrong. It sounds like we had many in our military who were perfectly fine with the war in Afghanistan, because it seemed to meet some basic criteria for a Just War, but Iraq seems so far beyond the pale that many have disagreed with it.

    But I guarantee you that commanders don’t want to encourage this line of thinking amongst the rank and file of the military. What chaos! (“Sorry, sarge, but I don’t really think this war is justified. I’ll pass.”)

    I, of course, still think this is right, but as I said, I think this is not going to be encouraged AT ALL in our military.

  11. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Dan & Chance answered my initial conflicted feelings about whether to require rural doctors or pharmacists to give services against their conscience with a resounding “no.” Chance indicated only a belief in “negative rights,” rights NOT to do something, but no positive responsibilities to go along with that.

    I don’t like imposing on consciences, so I took my rebuke and tried to find another answer.
    No one has yet answered my second try at not burdening rural women’s consciences as the price for respecting doctors and pharmacists consciences. Please answer the following:

    “Okay, so would we agree to a tax-supported program to encourage at least one pharmacist willing to sell morning after pills to locate in every county of the U.S.? To locate women’s health clinics (including abortion services) in every state?

    “That would not be imposing on consciences, but it would increase the choices available in rural areas–where the market is least likely to provide alternatives by itself.

    “Of course, if we also invested in better sex education in rural areas, gave supports so that pregnant teens could continue school, worked on job creation, pre-natal care, etc. then the abortion rate would also drop at the same time. “

  12. Dan Trabue said

    I think that works for me.

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