Monday, April 11, 2005

Conscience clauses and those devilish details. Part 2.

Assuming you've already breezed through part 1, we can now address the general question of what pro-life pharmacists want by asking the first specific question of these folks:

If you are refusing to serve a customer or fill a prescription based on your moral beliefs, will you make it clear why?

I'll bet most of you never considered that as an issue -- whether the pharmacist should have an obligation to explain truthfully why the customer is being refused service. But this really is a sticky issue.

Recall back here when "Pharmacists for Life" President Karen Brauer was fired for refusing to fill a birth-control prescription. But she never used her moral beliefs as a justification. Instead, she lied about the availability of the drug, almost certainly to avoid a confrontation and perhaps to hang on to her job. As I've explained previously, that's not principle -- that's cowardice.

If these folks are going to be selective about who they choose to serve, it seems only fair that they agree to be honest about why they're doing it, and be prepared to deal with the consequences. In short, I'd make that part of the "contract": no weaseling -- you tell the customer you're not helping them because you think you're morally superior. Then be prepared for some overworked, overstressed, deeply-into-PMS female who's having a bad day and is already late for her next meeting to launch herself across the counter to rip your throat out. Hey, no one said having morals was easy, did they?

Which brings us to the next question:

If you, the pro-life pharmacist, refuse to serve a customer for some reason, are you prepared to allow someone else at that same store to process the customer, and without any additional delay?

Oh, yes, most of you potential customers know where I'm coming from. You're busy, you're trying to run a dozen errands on your lunch break, you've just stood in line for 10 minutes at the pharmacy counter and you finally get to the front of the line, only to hear, "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't fill that for you -- it's against my religious beliefs. Sorry."

"Well, fuck you," you say, "I just wasted 10 minutes standing in this line for nothing. I want my prescription filled, and I want it filled it now, and I don't give a shit about your religious beliefs." So what would be an acceptable outcome? Actually, there's one way out, and that's only if there is another pharmacist on duty who is immediately (and let me stress, immediately) available to handle your request, because I'm going to propose a single cardinal rule for the implementation of conscience clauses -- these clauses can be exercised as long as the customer is not inconvenienced in any way, no matter how minor. And I'm going to call that non-negotiable. But what does it mean?

It means that if you've just stood in line for 10 minutes, you can't be told to go stand in another line for another 10 minutes. It means that the alternate pharmacist has to drop, right now, whatever they're doing and deal with you, for a very simple reason -- you stood in line, you played by the rules, you got to the front of the line and now it's your turn to be served. If it means you have to be served by someone else, so be it.

What this also suggests is that, if for any reason, an alternate person is not available, the pro-life person must deal with you. No morals, no principles, no bullshit. To paraphrase a well-known saying, religious scruples on their part doesn't constitute an unwarranted unconvenience on your part. And you'll note what else this implies -- they can't refer you elsewhere. You came to that pharmacy, you waited in line, you now have a right to be served. End of discussion and, again, it's just part of a larger picture -- conscience clauses are just fine as long as they don't affect the customer even in the slightest. How that's implemented is not your, the customer's, problem, is it?

Coming up in part 3: Who gets to decide what falls under the conscience clause?

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