One of the persistent conservative complaints about the liberal tradition, dating back to the French Revolution, has been its anti-communitarian tendency to view every difficult social issue as a matter of individual rights. But increasingly conservatives themselves are adopting the rhetoric and logic of the once-hated Jacobins. Witness the emergence, as explained in today’s Washington Post, of one of the least stirring Civil Rights struggles in living memory: the “Pharmacists’ Rights” movement.The movement in question asserts the right of individual pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, morning-after pills, or other drugs deemed to violate the druggist’s moral or religious views. The Post’s Rob Stein quotes Steven H. Aden of the Christian Legal Society as making this portentous prediction:
This is a very big issue that’s just beginning to surface. More and more pharmacists are becoming aware of their right to conscientiously refuse to pass objectionable medications across the counter. We are on the very front edge of a wave that’s going to break not too far down the line.
This “wave” is certainly carrying the pharmacy profession down a very slippery slope. The “Pharmacists’ Rights” argument goes beyond simple yes-no propositions about “objectionable medications,” into the claim that pharmacists should be able to become white-smocked judges of the worthiness of individuals–e.g., single women seeking birth control pills–to receive certain prescribed drugs.
An increasing number of clashes are occurring in drugstores across the country. Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by sometimes-lecturing men and women in white coats.
Where will it end? Birth control aside, do pharmacists have the “right” to second-guess doctors about the appropriateness of a particular medication for a particular patient? And will pharmacy cashiers be empowered to deny candy bars to the obviously obese; toy guns to the parents of toddlers; and cigarettes to everybody?It’s funny: last time I paid attention to the political issues embroiling pharmacists, some decades ago, the big concern was to prevent giant drugstore chains from consuming owner-operated pharmacies through “unfair” price competition. Under a “Pharmacists’ Rights” regime, the only viable pharmacies would be those large enough to staff several prescription stations: one where “objectionable” medications are not available; one where such medications are available only after an examination of the petitioner, who must perhaps take oaths and/or present a marriage license; and still another where brazen “liberal” pharmacists dispense medications freely.Or perhaps the market will drive us in another direction, with highly specialized drug stores where Pharmacists of Conscience can band together and and serve only those who share their views. Imagine signs advertising Righteous Peoples’ Drugs, a safe haven for those who do not wish to fill prescriptions for, or rub elbows with, fornicators and abortionists. And then, in the big cities at least, you’d have Genie Drugs, “Where Your Doctor’s Wish Is Our Command.” And at the big discount retail chains, you’d probably have the chance to gamble for really low prices if a pharmacist who approves of your medication happens to be on duty.Only in America…