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Free markets and freedom of conscience go hand in hand

Posted by Chance on December 4, 2008

I was looking at the Auburn University newspaper online to see what they thought of Tommy Tuberville’s firing from the head football coach position (correction, it appears that Tuberville stepped down to the surprise of the AD) and a I found an opinion piece concerning “right of conscience” rules, which allow medical workers to opt out of performing procedures they find morally objectionable.

Of course, the editorial staff thought these rules were a bad idea, and they use the following example:

Here is a hypothetical situation for you. You arrive at Outback Steakhouse with a desire for, you guessed it, a steak! You sit down, and as you tell the waiter you would like a 6 oz. ribeye, he interrupts you.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he says. “Our cook, Geoff, is a vegan, and he will not be cooking anything involving animal products tonight.”

You’re stunned, but you have to understand what you have just heard, so you inquire further.

“But you’re Outback STEAKhouse,” you say. “Steak is in your name. Well, could you at least tell us where we could get a decent steak around town?”

“No, sir,” he says. “Geoff is also acting as the manager tonight, and he has instructed the wait staff to only point our guests toward restaurants that also serve vegan items. Can I start you off with a Bloomin’ Onion, tonight? Nevermind, the batter uses eggs…”

To which I responded,

Your Outback scenario shows that you are completely missing one half of the argument. Outback would never hire a vegan cook. In the same way, hospitals and doctor’s offices won’t hire people whose beliefs get in the way of performing their job. Of course, for that to work, employers would need a little flexibility in who they hire, and that probably sounds a little too “free market” for you guys.

The editorial staff even allude to a free market solution, when they close with

If this rule becomes a reality, patients will have to do some major research before they select a doctor or pharmacist. But then again, the more open-minded doctors and pharmacists will make a killing.

Yes, a reality of the free market is that sometimes individuals may have to do a little bit more research to make an informed choice, an unfortunate side effect of having “choice” in the first place. And yes, some people will make more money than others, that’s what happens when people provide something people want, that others don’t. Granted, things get a little more complicated when it gets to the issue of medical emergencies and saving lives, so that’s where legal action and medical boards get involved.

But again, I want to reiterate that for the free market to work, choice must be allowed in the customer/provider relationship AND the employer/employee relationship. Doug Bandow writes in the Foundation for Economic Education

According to the newspapers, pharmacists throughout the United States are refusing to fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill and other contraceptives because of religious objections. Fortunately,we can resolve this problem without getting into the birth-control or abortion controversies. In a free society, human relationships, including commercial relationships, must grow out of the consent of all the people involved. A forced sale is theft; forced service is slavery.
The owner of a drugstore, by virtue of the nature of private property, sets the rules. If customers don’t like them, they are free to go elsewhere.They can even shop
on the Internet. Similarly, if a pharmacist-employee with convictions opposed to the morning-after pill works for someone who thinks differently, he will have to find another job if he can’t work things out with his
boss.

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