AND SO IT GOES
Pope's 'morning after pill' speech criticised
Politicians and pharmacists in Italy responded angrily on Tuesday to an appeal by Pope Benedict for pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs such as the "morning after pill" if they object on moral grounds.
Posted: Friday, November 2, 2007, 9:57 (GMT)
VATICAN CITY - Politicians and pharmacists in Italy responded angrily on Tuesday to an appeal by Pope Benedict for pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs such as the "morning after pill" if they object on moral grounds.
The Pope told an international conference on Monday that pharmacists should be guaranteed the right to conscientious objection in cases where medicines they distribute can block pregnancy, provoke abortion or assist euthanasia.
Health Minister Livia Turco said that while the Pope had the right to urge young people to be sexually responsible, he could not tell professionals such as pharmacists what to do.
"I don't think his warning to pharmacists to be conscientious objectors to the morning after pill should be taken into consideration," she told daily Corriere della Sera.
Benedict did not mention any specific drugs but appeared to refer to the morning after pill, which can stop ovulation if taken within about 72 hours of sexual intercourse. It is available only by doctor's prescription in Italy.
He also referred to RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, which is available on an experimental basis in some Italian hospitals. It blocks the action of hormones needed to keep a fertilised egg implanted in the uterus.
Franco Caprino, head of pharmacists' professional group Federfarma, said that by law pharmacists had to distribute medicine prescribed by a doctor.
"We can't be conscientious objectors unless the law is changed," he said.
While some politicians defended the Pope's right to speak his mind and the right of pharmacists to be conscientious objectors, others criticised him.
"The Pope's appeal to pharmacists to refuse to sell the morning after pill is a very heavy interference in politics and Italian life," said Lidia Menapace, a senator of the Communist Refoundation party.
The Church teaches that artificial birth control, abortion and euthanasia are wrong. It holds that nothing should block the possible transmission of life, which it teaches starts at conception and ends at natural death.
Italian media interviewed pharmacists who are practicing Catholics. Some said they were obliged to put aside their personal beliefs and sell the prescribed medicine, while others said they preferred to ask a colleague to do so.
The morning after pill, sometimes referred to as emergency contraception, has stirred controversy in other countries such as the United States, where some forms are available to those aged 18 and over without a prescription.
U.S. family planning groups support such wider access, but conservative and religious groups have argued that easy availability of the pill promotes promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases among teens and others.
Last August, President George W. Bush said he supported restricting access to emergency contraception for minors.
In February, Chile allowed girls aged 14 and over the right to the morning after pill free of charge and without parental consent after a bitter debate that pitted the government against the Catholic Church.
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November 2, 2007By Chris Heide
While addressing an international conference of Catholic pharmacists Monday, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholic pharmacists to refused dispensing medications that have "immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia," according to the Associated Press.
He argued that pharmacists have a duty to protect the lives of humans from conception until natural death. This includes all drugs that would inhibit normal human life.
Although this speech doesn’t have any legal implications that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill certain prescriptions, such as emergency contraception, it would have problematic implications if the pope’s advice were followed and that type of behavior was deemed socially acceptable within the United States.
Thankfully, many international pharmacists and health professionals reacted angrily in response to the pope’s plea.
However, the issue of pharmacists wielding insurmountable power over their patrons has hit close to home.
Within the past few years, several cases dealing with a pharmacist’s refusal to fill a prescription have arisen in the United States.
In July 2007, several Washington pharmacists “filed a federal lawsuit over a regulation requiring them to sell emergency contraception, saying it violates their civil rights by forcing them into choosing between ‘their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs,’” according to the AP.
A pharmacist’s responsibility to his or her customer must trump his or her personal values. Clearly, this is an issue that should have been put to bed several years ago, but the Pope has managed to reopen old wounds.
Few people would appreciate a dose of morally superior advice from a pharmacist when they go to pick up a prescription. A person’s autonomy over his or her own body is sacrosanct. It must be protected from interference by both church and state.
If a drug is approved by the FDA and prescribed by a doctor, then a person has a legal right to obtain and consume that drug. A pharmacist’s refusal to fill a prescription could put the lives of his or her customers at risk.
Many conservative religious groups link the accessibility of birth control with sexual promiscuity and an increased rate of contraction of sexually transmitted diseases among teens and young adults.
And just as a Catholic pharmacist may find abortion morally repugnant but has no legal right within the United States to impose those beliefs on others, he or she has no right to inhibit the sale of the day after pill.
Livia Turco, the Italian health minister, responded that while the pope has the right to urge young people to be sexually responsible, he cannot tell professionals such as pharmacists what to do, according to Reuters.
Reuters also reported that last August President George W. Bush said he supported restricting access to emergency contraception for minors.
Sexual promiscuity is a problem with teenagers in the United States. However, restricting access to birth control options such as emergency contraception does not prevent teenagers from having sexual intercourse. It simply makes them less prepared and definitely less safe while having sex.
While it is a compromise, we all have to realize that if you are going to have sex, then have safe sex. While not everyone agrees with such safe-sex education, pharmacists should not be able to toy with a person’s ability to decide. A pharmacist voluntarily chooses his or her profession and must perform all aspects of the job.
A person certainly is entitled to his or her moral beliefs and should be applauded for defending them. However, if pharmacists feel that their moral objections would prevent them from performing all aspects of the job, then they should simply quit.
The pope’s suggestions would incite something of an illegal coup in this country. Religious freedom is a fundamental aspect of the first amendment. To refuse to fill a prescription for deep religious values would be to impose those values on other citizens.
This is different than pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for their personal beliefs, because normal citizens have no other alternatives to obtain their meds. This would violate the first amendment and would therefore be unconstitutional.
Let’s hope that the pope’s suggestion never becomes a legal reality in our country.
[Reach columnists Chris Heide at email@example.com.]
Comments on this article:
Lee Smith - 11/02/07
Chris Heide's opinion piece carries pro-abortion newspeak to absurd, new extremes. Agreeing with Italian health minister Livia Turco that the pope has no right to urge pharmacists to follow their consciences, Heide appeals to "choice" to argue against the right of pharmacists to choose life and against the right of the head of the billion-member Catholic Church to encourage such a choice. In stating, "A pharmacist’s responsibility to his or her customer must trump his or her personal values" Heide also stretches to new lengths the insidious claim first made by JFK and now used by virtually every US Catholic politician to excuse the abandonment of the teaching of his or her faith in the public arena. Heide now wants this despicable formula to cover all professionals, not just elected officials. Posing as an apostle of "choice," Heide asserts that pharmacists should have no choice but to obey a "responsibility to their customers" that mandates assisting a mother in killing her unborn child. In Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, when Cardinal Wolsey chides Thomas More for "obstruct[ing] those measures [to obtain a divorce for Henry VIII] for the sake of your own personal conscience," More replies: Well ... I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties ... they lead their country by a short route to chaos." But Heide can rest easy because in this country and in Europe - already in chaos - most Catholics, unlike More, who was ready to face prison and death for his faith, agree with society at large rather than their church in approving of abortion.
Joel Pierce - 11/02/07
This may display my ignorance, but how is a pharmacist deciding to not provide a certain product because they find it immoral, different from a clothing shop deciding not to sell sweatshop produced clothes or a coffee shop only selling fair trade coffee? If we are willing to let merchants make moral decisions about their products in other arenas, why are pharmacists not allowed to?
Joel Pierce - 11/02/07
That being said, I think if a pharmacist works for a hospital or other institution, it seems right that the institution should be able to fire a pharmacist for not providing the drug, just as Walmart should be able to fire an employee for refusing to stock the shelves with sweatshop produced clothes.
Joel Pierce - 11/02/07
As to Heide's claim that pharmacies are somehow different (and again I may be displaying my ignorance), because they are the only place patients can obtain the required drugs, I am guessing that in any given town their probably exists more than one pharmacy and probably not all of them are run by strictly observant Catholics. If this is not the case and people will really not be able to get access to the drug, might I suggest Heide and others like him engage in reasoned debated and campaign to sway the moral reason of pharmacists instead of arguing for the suppression of that reason in the workplace. Such efforts might be difficult, but I believe that Heide must agree that an approach biased toward protecting the free use of a people's moral faculties, even when it is inconvenient for the rest of us, is preferable in a free society.
Brad - 11/02/07
If a pharmacist owns his own establishment, I can understand his right not to dispense medicines that conflict with his moral beliefs, as the above example of not stocking sweatshop-produced clothing or only selling fair trade coffee illustrates. If they work for someone else though, I don't think they should be shielded from the consequences of their decisions - they shouldn't be protected from being fired for their refusal to dispense such products. It's part of the job, if you don't like it, find another. It's just like the multiple incidents at the Minneapolis (I think) airport where individuals of the Muslim persuasion refused to transport passengers carrying alcohol. It's part of the job - if you don't like it, find another.
Peter Einwaller - 11/02/07
The Pope's recommendation is already a legal reality in our country: each person has the freedom and liberty to provide a service to whomever they choose to; this is a fundamental liberty. It sounds like you would like to compromise the real "choice" of a citizen just like a marxist would - you must do whatever insane thing the state might determine you should do. Can you say "secular progressive brainwashing".
Joel Pierce - 11/02/07
On a separate point, Heide's analogy concerning abortion seems to be a bit fallacious. While it's certainly true that a Catholic pharmacists, or more the point Catholic doctors, do not have the right to stop someone from having an abortion, they do have the right (or at least should) to not participate in that action. Finally, just to clarify what I believe the Pope's position is (in accordance with Humanae Vitae): the Pope is opposed to not only the morning after pill, but also all forms of contraception. This is different from the standard Protestant pro-life (or anti-choice, however one wishes to label it) position and one needs to be careful not to conflate the two.
Stefaan C Hublou - 11/03/07
Hello people; I have read with great interest Heide's article and the coments made. I am happy and impressed by the quality of this discussion thread. These viewpoints have enriched my thinking on te Pope issuing moral Calls and on the difficult moral and existential problem of different ways people use to enable themselves to enjoy affection and sexual intercourse without leaving open the (Super)Natural effect of the woman becoming a mother and both people assuming their role to become a father and a mother (again)...As a historian with an autodidactical knowledge on natural history and (evolutionary) biology, I would like to add the perspective that Mother Nature/The Creator seems to make a big difference between a fertilized egg and a creature that has reached maturity; the former are usually much less protected and thus inbued with value (out ot the one million fertilized Salmon eggs, only a couple of adult fish stay alive after one year) then individuals that are of a higher degree of refinement and complexity like (sub)adult Bonobo's. These fellow creatures are protected by groupmembers as well by their own skills against the dangers that always seem to lure around the corner in this World..