Acts of conscience

August 19, 2008

I confess that I haven’t followed very closely the “conscience clause” controversy brought on by some pharmacists who don’t want to fill certain prescriptions — the “morning after” pill and even other birth-control measures — because of religious beliefs. I could see the arguments on both sides and haven’t felt any pressing need to jump in. But now doctors are getting into the act:

California’s high court on Monday barred doctors from withholding medical care to gays and lesbians based on religious beliefs, ruling that state law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination extends to the medical profession.

The ruling was unanimous, a contrast to the state Supreme Court’s 4-3 schism in May legalizing gay marriage.

Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in the ruling that two Christian fertility doctors who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian have neither a free speech right nor a religious exemption from the state’s law, which “imposes on business establishments certain antidiscrimination obligations.”

So now we’ve got abortion and sexual orientation on the list. The California doctors are supported by, among others, the Islamic Medical Association of North America. Wonder whom they don’t want to treat? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is all headed.

Do we really want to have to get out a checklist of our beliefs and practices and cross-reference it with the medical directory’s list of doctors who don’t want to treat certain people? There’s a reason we have asked doctors not to worry about the background of people on the operating table — “I can’t save the life of this murderer!” Their duty is to repair the body — whatever body is in front of them — not pick and choose who is worthy of saving.

I know, I know. These people want to refuse certain procedures. They are not refusing to treat certain people. But the certain people and the certain procedures go together, so it’s a fine line. I also know I’d have slightly different feelings if the pharmacist wanted not to give out a legitimately prescribed aid for suicide, about which I have strong feelings. There are often such contradictions in these kinds of issues, which is another thing that makes them interesting to talk about.

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