Letter to the editor, Pharmacy Practice

Rosalyn Wosnick invites her readers to equate conscientious objection among pharmacists to the bigotry of a ‘deep south’ restauranteur, who argued that he had a right to deny service to blacks. (Editorial, Pharmacy Practice, July 2000) The analogy is misplaced, misrepresents the position of conscientious objectors, and is likely to engender prejudicial attitudes among their colleagues.

It would have been more accurate to compare pharmacists who have moral objections to dispensing a drug with a coffee shop owner who refuses to sell Brand X coffee to anyone, because it has been produced by child labour. The object, in both cases, is to avoid complicity in what the parties judge to be evil, regardless of the legalities involved.

However, Ms. Wosnick suggests that if a product is legal, and she wants it, other people should be made to give it to her, even if doing so would be contrary to their moral convictions. The product she is concerned about is Preven. Let’s consider a different product.

Ammunition, like Preven, is a legal product. Moreover, one has a legal right to defend one’s own home, even to the point of using deadly force, if need be. Suppose that a householder wants ammunition for defence against burglars, but a gun store clerk with moral objections to this type of crime prevention refuses to sell him ammunition. Applying Ms. Wosnick’s reasoning, the customer complains that the clerk is denying him his “right” to obtain a legal product. He demands that the clerk sell him the ammunition, or refer him to a more willing colleague, threatening to have him fired if he does not do so.

To say shotgun slugs are “legal”, however, means only that the customer is free to obtain and use them for legal purposes. It implies nothing about how gun store clerks should exercise their own freedom, even if licensed gun stores have a monopoly on the sale of ammunition as part of the state gun control system. Freedom to buy shotgun slugs – or drugs – does not mean that one is legally obliged to sell them, or to help others buy them.

If Ms. Wosnick asserts, instead, that there is a moral obligation to dispense a drug, and that this moral obligation is absolutely binding, she must identify the source of this morality. Moreover, since she would not dare to suppress the moral or ethical beliefs of others unless she was convinced that they were inferior to her own, she must explain why her moral views are superior to those that she seeks to suppress. Finally, in view of human rights jurisprudence that generally requires accommodation of belief rather than its suppression, she must explain why accommodation of those who disagree with her is impossible or undesirable.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

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