Sunday, May 03, 2009

Personal Sanctity (by Phila)

The Missouri house has passed a law stating that "no pharmacy can be required to perform, assist, recommend, refer to, or participate in any act or service resulting in an abortion and it will be immune from liability for refusing to do so."

There's no word on how this prospective law would handle "dual-use" products. Perhaps you'll have to go elsewhere for coathangers. And ulcer medications. And Methotrexate. But probably not. More likely, so long as the pharmacist's smug sense of personal sanctity remains intact, it'll be immaterial whether pregnant women kill themselves trying to induce an abortion by other means, or are beaten or murdered when they can no longer hide their pregnancy. As long as you refuse to think about the consequences of refusing to do your job, God can't hold you personally responsible. Ignorance is bliss!

A similarly ugly burlesque of morality was common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most "respectable" doctors refused to endanger their high opinion of themselves by treating patients who'd contracted venereal diseases. As Laurie Garrett notes in Betrayal of Trust,
From the earliest days of organized public health, Americans had exhibited a peculiar inability to cope with the conjunction of three fearsome factors: sex, disease, and death.
In The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America, John S. and Robin M. Haller describe the situation in more detail:
The same public morality which drove venereal vicims out of the cities of London and Paris in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and later heard from papal pronouncements that syphilis was God's punishment for incontinence, survived in institutions supported by public donations in the nineteenth celltury. Many hospitals in New York and elsewhere had rules prohibiting the treatment of gonorrhea or syphilis.
As late as the 1930s, many American hospitals still had an official policy of refusing treatment to victims of venereal disease, even though Hippocrates himself stated that doctors "must inspect the unseemly and handle the horrible." A similar moral delicacy was observed in the early 20th century by doctors in Queensland, Australia, who piously refused to treat aboriginals who'd contracted venereal diseases (from white settlers, as often as not).

Here's the delightful Dr. John Simon of London, writing in 1868 against the use of public money for the prevention and treatment of venereal disease:
Now, it is quite certain that, rightly or wrongly, the proposed appropriation of money would, in the eyes of very large numbers of persons, be in the last degree odious and immoral....I suppose it may be assumed that public policy is very decidely in favour of marriage as against promiscuous fornication; that the latter, however powerless may be laws to prevent it, is, at least, an order of things which no State would willingly foster; that, whereas it has some contagious maladies, such drawbacks from its attractions are not in their kind a matter for general social regret; that venereal diseases are, in principle, infections which a man contracts at his own option, and against which he cannot in any degree claim to be protected by action of others - the less so, of course, as his option is exercised in modes of life contrary to the common good; that thus, prima facie, the true policy of Government is to regard the prevention of venereal diseases as a matter of exclusively private concern. Caveat emptor!
Returning to the present, the fact that you've managed to channel your basically murderous impulses into the protection of "innocent life" doesn't make you a good person, and certainly shouldn't exempt you from the professional standards that apply to your chosen profession. It's amazing how many people who deny that there's any right to a living wage, or to legal protection from sexual harassment, are convinced that there is a right to work in a government-licensed pharmacy, whether you're willing to do your job or not. Pharmacists, the logic goes, should enjoy legal protection from martyrdom, while reserving the right to thrust it upon other people.

Speaking as a radical vegan extremist who longs to force my irrational worldview down everyone else's throat, I look forward to getting a job at McDonald's -- or better yet, a public high-school cafeteria -- and refusing to serve anyone who orders animal products. I'm sure state legislators will be happy to scribble up some "conscience clause" that'll reinstate me if I get fired. After all, this isn't some mere eccentricity on my's a deeply held conviction about the sanctity of life.

In other news, a school official in Kentucky has allegedly told teachers to deny bathroom breaks to homosexual students. Let's hope that the state legislature moves swiftly to protect this official's freedom of conscience.