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Monday, January 30, 2006

Doctor's Orders

Suppose your religious beliefs required strict vegetarianism and your faith teaches you that eating animal flesh was tantamount to murder. If you further decided that your conscience dictated that you couldn't even facilitate this conduct with risking eternal damnation...being a waiter at the local Ruth's Chris is probably not the right job for you. And I don't think your boss there would keep you for long if, while employed there, you loudly demanded that your customers only order the salads before skipping straight to the desert menu.

He'd tell you to find another job.

Now imagine, that instead of something relatively trivial such as whether customers will get their filet mignon without having to call a manager, you're dealing with a rape victim who is trying to avoid going through a pregnancy caused by the rape.

Why a pharmacist who refuses to dispense birth control on the presentation of a valid prescription shouldn't be dealt with in the same way that our hypothetical Ruth's Chris waiter would be is an exercise left to the reader. Apparently, legislators in some [unspecified] states don't see it that way.

From the Washington Post:
About half of the proposals would shield pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and "morning-after" pills because they believe the drugs cause abortions. But many are far broader measures that would shelter a doctor, nurse, aide, technician or other employee who objects to any therapy. That might include in-vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cells and perhaps even providing treatment to gays and lesbians.

This type of legislation would open a veritable Pandora's box of consequences. Religion is used as a cover for all sorts of discrimination. While it's unlikely that racial discrimination under color of religious belief would pass muster, maybe doctors in some states won't have to treat gays and lesbians anymore since they are often not a protected class under the law. The contemplated restrictions reach well beyond just abortion into contraception, anything having to do with sex, decisions about life and death, and even, in the future, matters connected to stem cell research, including any possible future fruits of such research.

Discrimination already happens in medical care; consider the case of Tyra Hunter, a transsexual in Washington, DC, who was allowed to bleed to death because medical personnel didn't want to touch her. At least those people paid (via a famous lawsuit) for their acts and omissions; they might be shielded in some states, if they pass the sorts of laws being considered. These sorts of discriminatory impulses absolutely do not need to be validated.

All this is enough to make you want to demand your doctor be an atheist. Of course, that's often not an option; Tyra Hunter, after all, couldn't go doctor shopping, not even in Washington, DC.


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