Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pharmacists and Supernatural Taboos

Recently Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic pharmacists NOT to dispense products that contradict Catholic teachings, including products that prevent pregnancy, and also, ironically, products that could end the pregnancies that could have been prevented in the first place.

In his address to the 25th International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists, the pope said, "We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo or shortening a person's life.”  (Go to http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jw4DfRJJM5LHehUvvOG8BRS1VtuwD8SJ6PC82. )

Although the Pope paints this as a matter of “conscience,” the word “conscience” as the Pope uses it means almost the exact opposite as it does for most other persons.  In the Roman Catholic religion, you have a clear “conscience” when you know that what you believe coincides with what the Church/Pope demands.  If you follow your own sense of reason, compassion, logic and morals, you are NOT following your conscience, according to what my pocket Catholic Catechism says.  The Church/Pope IS the conscience of a Roman Catholic, supposedly.  The kind of restrictions being dealt with here are not moral rules but instead supernatural taboos.

So persons of reason then must consider the situation in a different light than the Pope would prefer.  Is it immoral (which is defined as whether something helps or harms well being) to dispense legal contraceptive devices or products to be used in euthanasia?

A difference of opinion is possible here (although I’d like to see the argument against condoms!)  And a person may actually come to a conclusion based on their own ability to reason and their own sense of right and wrong that actually coincides with the Pope’s demands.  A pharmacist who has reasoned it through then can refuse to do a portion of their job or find some other line of work if they so truly object.

But the pharmacy owner has rights also.  Should employers be forced to keep as employees those persons who refuse to completely perform a legal job?  If an employee asks to be relieved of certain duties that other employees willingly perform, and other potential employees would willingly perform, why continue to employ the reluctant employee?  That is a good question for an employer.

It really is simple: a religious excuse is no better than any other excuse, and in fact, it is much worse.  A logical reason is a better excuse; legality/illegality is a better excuse.  And yes, the ethics/morality of a behavior is a far better excuse than a supernatural taboo.

Religious persons are entitled to their convictions until they infringe upon the rights of others and cause others harm.  They can refuse to dispense condoms, the pill or other forbidden products; however, the employer, who might lose sales and income if he were to hire a store full of such employees, should have the right to fire them.

To put a bow on it, what would happen if other people stopped doing portions of their jobs for various and sundry religious and/or non-religious reasons?  Exactly why should this discussion be confined to pharmacists?  Why would this discussion be confined to contraceptives?

What about butchers in supermarkets refusing to butcher pork?  Or beef?  Or meat in general?  Must the supermarket continue to employ them?

Would it be ok if police or firemen or those in a retail job refused to work on their Sabbath or some other day of the week?  Is there a rule about the length of the Sabbath or holy days – could they be 2 or 3 days long or more?  Should private employers or the State accommodate any religious or even non-religious whim?  If we accommodate Catholic pharmacists, should we accommodate Christian Identity followers who refuse to serve African Americans?  Can the government designate one religion as “ok” and another as “not ok”?

Obviously not, but sometimes the obvious is invisible to the oblivious.

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