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In this paper I will be arguing that a pharmacist should not have the right to refuse to provide a prescription because of religious reasons. The article I read questioned whether or not pharmacists should have the right to refuse medication because of their religious beliefs. Refusing to distribute a medication should not be allowed. The negative impact that being denied drugs will have on the patient is unnecessary and it is not considerate of the thoughts and feelings of the patient as a human being. As Americans we have fundamental rights to different kinds of freedom, and by refusing to give a client their prescription on a basis of religious conviction, the pharmacist is also refusing to allow the client their right to religious freedom and autonomy. Allowing a pharmacist to refuse one kind of medication based on religious beliefs will open the door to refusal of more medications, and that will allow pharmacists to make snap judgements about clients and refuse them medication. In turn, that will open the door for discrimination disguised as religious conviction. Ultimately the only reason a pharmacist should be allowed to withhold medication from a patient is due to a legitimate medical concern.
Argument 1: Being denied drugs has a negative emotional impact on the patient and violates the patient’s autonomy.
The negative emotional impact that comes from being denied medication is destructive to the patient. For example, a woman gets raped. She has just left the hospital after being checked out and she goes to a 24-hour pharmacy to get Plan-B pills so that she can prevent the possibility of getting pregnant. Upon arrival, she asks the pharmacist for the pills and they refuse and tell her to come back when someone else is working or to go to another pharmacy. Unfortunately, this is the only 24-hour pharmacy in town. The woman, already emotionally distraught, leaves feeling judged by the pharmacist, embarrassed because of being denied the pills, and worried because the likelihood of her becoming pregnant with her attacker’s baby increases with every hour that will pass. The woman feels judged for wanting to use the only method of pregnancy prevention that is available to her. She did not have to opportunity to use a condom; she did not know she needed to take birth control; all she can do is take a Plan-B pill, but now she cannot even do that because of the pharmacist.
Denying a patient medication is a violation of their autonomy, or the right for them to live their life how they want to live it. The pharmacist is controlling the woman’s decisions and taking away her freedom to choose. It is not fair to the patient that the pharmacist is revoking their right to do what they want with their life. The patient has become an object, with no rights and no logical thoughts. As a person the patient has rights, thoughts, and feelings. By refusing to give the patient the pills, the pharmacist is ignoring their feelings, and not valuing that person. Chapter 5 “The Ethics of the Person” talks about how we need to value people and treat them like the humans they are by realizing that they have feelings and taking into account how they will react to different situations. The pharmacist is not valuing the patient when they refuse them medication. There is no thought to how the recipient of the prescription will feel after being refused the drugs. The emotional trauma that the client has already potentially suffered through could be so much that the refusal of pills pushes them over the edge and causes them to take drastic measures. Bad things could happen. The pharmacist does not take any of that into account when refusing medication, and being inconsiderate like that could be detrimental to the patient.
Argument 2: Refusing to supply medication because of religious beliefs is a violation of the patient’s fundamental rights to freedom of religion.
In America, everyone is entitled to fundamental rights. Those rights include freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Everyone is allowed to express their religion as they choose as long as it follows government permission and does not persecute other religions. When a pharmacist refuses to give a patient medication because of their personal religious beliefs they are violating the patient’s freedom of religion. The patient does not necessarily adhere to the pharmacist’s religious beliefs, and therefore they are not required to refrain from receiving the medication they were prescribed. They are forcing the client to abide by their convictions. This is a form of proselytism, which is trying to education or convert someone to your religious beliefs. They are withholding medication because their religion disagrees with the medication. For example, a Catholic pharmacist would be opposed to distributing birth control pills. If a woman who was not Catholic came in and tried to get the pills from the pharmacist and they refused, then the woman would be forced to adhere to Catholic practices for that period of time. The pharmacist is forcing the person to function without that medication and to follow their belief system, which is a violation of freedom of religion.
If the patient wants to take birth control and they do not have any opposition to it, then they are acting out their religious freedom through that. Their religion, or lack thereof, may be fine with them taking birth control pills. You don’t have to be opposing something to be practicing your freedom of religion. If your religious convictions do not limit you in one area, then you are still abiding by your religion and utilizing your freedom to express your religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in the United States, and every person is entitled to it. If a pharmacist refuses medication because of religious reasons, they are stripping the patient of their freedom of religion.
Argument 3: If a pharmacist has the right to refuse medication such as birth control, then they will be able to refuse all kinds of medication, and that can have serious repercussions.
If a pharmacist has the right to refuse birth control because they are religiously opposed to it then they can refuse other drugs based on whatever assumptions they make and claim that it is for religious reasons. Let’s say that a man comes into the pharmacy to pick up HIV medication. He walks up to the counter to get his prescription. The pharmacist looks at what medication he is requesting and then assumes that he has contracted HIV through homosexual sexual contact. Because they believe homosexuality is wrong, the pharmacist refuses to fill the prescription because he claims that would be supporting homosexuality, which he is religiously opposed to. The client leaves without his pills. Not having access to his medication can be detrimental to him because his health is deteriorating every minute he does not have the medication in his system.
The pharmacist has no idea how the man contracted HIV. He could have been born with it. Yet they are allowed to refuse the medication because they think they are religiously opposed to it. If the pharmacist knew that the man was born with HIV then he would not have a problem giving the man his medication. The fact that someone can be denied necessary drugs because of a shallow judgement that the pharmacist has made is not ethical. In Chapter 5, “Ethics of the Person” we learned that we should not act off of stereotypes and snap judgements. Treating someone a certain way because of something you have assumed is not valuing that person. They are a person, not a stereotype, and they deserve to be treated as such. Allowing a pharmacist to refuse medication because of religious beliefs is opening the door for people to judge clients based on their medication, and that is devaluing the clients as humans.
Argument 4: If pharmacists are allowed to withhold medication because of religious beliefs then that will open the door for discrimination.
Everyone is allowed to believe what they want to. You cannot be forced to not believe in something, you are protected by the Constitution. People say it would be bad to allow the government to regulate what you can and cannot believe in. Consider this: if a pharmacist is allowed to refuse medication because of religious beliefs, that will allow people to refuse medication because of other reasons. They can discriminate and cover it up with the claim that it is against their religion. If a pharmacist can deny a patient birth control because they do not believe in using contraception, then a pharmacist can deny serving a patient based on their race and defend their actions by claiming it is against their religion. If a pharmacist does not like Arabs because they think they are all Muslim terrorists, they can refuse them service and claim that it is against their religious convictions to do so. Enabling a pharmacist to refuse medication to someone based on religious beliefs opens the door for justified discrimination.
In America, discrimination has been a problem. Racial, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination have all plagued America at one time or another. Discrimination is a current problem that is infecting our justice system drastically. If pharmacists are allowed to refuse medication because of religious reasons, then the door for discrimination is opened and it will begin to leak into other areas of society. The act of discriminating devalues humans. “Ethics of the Person” tells us that everyone needs to be treated like an equal human being. Discrimination is the exact opposite of that. If pharmacists are allowed to withhold medication then the seed of discrimination will be planted and will begin to grow. We have to stop it before it can spread further than it already has. We cannot change the past, but we can prevent a worse future.
Objection 1: If everyone is allowed to do whatever works for them, then we are functioning under relativism, which is wrong according to Weston.
If any patient can go to a pharmacy and get whatever prescription they want and the pharmacist has to disregard their feelings, then they are functioning under relativism. Anyone can decide that whatever prescription they want is what works for them and pharmacists cannot say it is wrong, just different. The pharmacists would be forced to respect the patient’s regardless of their own feelings. Weston tells us relativism is wrong because there is no moral progress, and everyone’s moral opinion is as good as any other. This will open up the door for other rules to be done away with. Next thing you know it will be legal to kill people. If we allow people to do what they want then the structure of society will begin to deteriorate and eventually everyone will be making up their own set of rules. We cannot live under relativism, and by revoking the right of pharmacists to withhold medication, we are taking a step towards relativism.
Response 1: (Ethics of the Person?) Everyone should have the right to control their life as they choose as long as it does not bring someone else any harm.
The pharmacist is not suffering because they are giving the patient the drugs. It may be a little uncomfortable, but once they hand over the medication then it is over. They are simply allowing the client to live how they want to live, and in most cases, providing them with medication that they need to live a better life. The pharmacist allowing the recipient to have their prescription regardless of religious views is not a step towards relativism. It is allowing the person basic human rights by allowing them to live their life the way that they want to.
Objection 2: The pharmacist is required to provide an alternate way for the patient to obtain the medication, so the patient still gets their prescription.
The client still gets their medication, just not from that specific pharmacist. It may be somewhat inconvenient, but they still get it. That way the ethical beliefs of the pharmacist are preserved and the patient still can obtain the drugs they want. The pharmacist does not have to give the patient the pills, so long as they get the medication they want. There is no need to revoke the pharmacist’s right to withhold medication, as long as alternate means of getting the drugs are available to the client.
Response 2: Providing an alternate source for the drugs is still providing the drugs, just in a more indirect way. If the pharmacist was actually opposed to giving the person the drug, they would not refer them to someone else. The pharmacist is still violating their ethical code, they are just making the patient wait longer for their medication.
If a pharmacist does refuse to distribute a prescription, then they are required to provide the client with an alternate source of obtaining the medication. That could be sending them to another pharmacy to get their pills, or just having someone else serve them. Either way, they are indirectly supplying the person with the medication. That still violates their convictions. If the pharmacist were truly opposed to providing the medication, then they would refuse to hand it over and that would be the end of it; no alternate option. By providing an alternate means for the patient to get their medication, the pharmacist is still violating their ethical beliefs, they are just causing the patient more strife and wasting their time. It would save time and effort if the pharmacist just gave the patient their prescription. Not allowing the pharmacist to withhold the medication is not that bad because they are already violating their ethical beliefs by providing a way for the client to get the prescription.
Objection 3: The pharmacist has the right to refuse a medication if they are trying to prevent something bad from happening. They may be concerned for the patient’s health and wellbeing.
If the pharmacist is trying to prevent harm from coming to the patient they should be able to. By withholding medication, the pharmacist is preventing possible danger such as mixing of medication or a potential lawsuit. The pharmacist is simply concerned for the patient’s health and well-being, and should be allowed to do so.
Response 3: The pharmacist needs to provide a legitimate medical reason; a religious reason alone is not enough cause to withhold medication from someone.
A pharmacist refusing to supply a woman with Plan B pills because they are Catholic and do not believe in contraception is not the same as preventing a lawsuit or being concerned for the client’s health and well being. Religious convictions will become the excuse for withholding medication. If the pharmacist can come up with a legitimate medical reason that the patient should not be allowed to take the prescription they want to, then the pharmacist should have the right to refuse service. A religious conviction alone is not enough cause to withhold medication.
The only reason that a pharmacist should be allowed to refuse medication to a client is if they have a legitimate medical concern. If the patient will be worse off taking the medication than they were before they took it, or their life is in danger, the pharmacist should have the right to step in. A religious reason alone should not be enough to withhold medication from a patient. If pharmacists are allowed to refuse pills because they are convicted religiously, then they will begin to make assumptions about the reasons people need medication, and claim religious conviction even when that is not actually a valid reason. Taking from the HIV example, the pharmacist has no idea how the man came to have HIV, but because of his judgement, the patient was refused service. He has been a victim of a stereotype, and not like the individual that he is. This stereotyping will open the door to larger and larger acts of discrimination. Discrimination is already a big problem in America, mostly in the legal system. If pharmacists are allowed to refuse medication, then that discrimination will seep into the medical system and continue from there. While regulating practices of religious freedom is a slippery slope, but choosing to prevent discrimination is the lesser of two evils. We as human beings have to treat each other with the respect that we each deserve. Doing so is not submitting to relativism, but instead is valuing the person. Ethics of the person centers around treating each other equally, fairly, and with the respect that we deserve. Under the veil of ignorance, someone would want to be able to choose how they live their lives. By not allowing pharmacists to refuse medication based solely off of personal religious convictions we are preserving people’s freedom and preventing the growth of discrimination.
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