Bryan Fischer
Time to provide conscience protections for pharmacists
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Bryan Fischer
March 27, 2009

The Idaho House of Representatives will soon take up a bill, House Bill 216 (HB216) designed to protect the conscience rights of pharmacists and pharmacies.

This bill, despite strenuous opposition from the usual suspects such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, passed out of the House State Affairs Committee on a 14-4 vote.

This bill is designed to establish conscience protections for Idaho pharmacists, to insulate them from being forced to dispense drugs that would violate their moral or religious convictions.

This is of particular significance with regard to the so-called "morning after" pill, otherwise known as "emergency contraception" or Plan B. Remarkably, a federal judge has ordered that this high-dosage birth control pill be made available to 17-year-olds without prescription, even though the lower dosage version can't be dispensed without one.

The problem here is that Plan B can cause an abortion at the earliest stage of human development, by preventing the implantation of a fertilized embryo on the uterine wall.

Planned Parenthood ludicrously claims this is not an actual abortion, which it does through deceptive verbal sleight-of-hand. Planned Parenthood simply defines "pregnancy" as beginning with implantation rather than conception, and presto-chango, you get a free pass on the first seven to 10 days of human life.

But a fertilized embryo is in fact a human life at its earliest stage of development, and Plan B can flush this tiny little human being out of a woman's body by preventing its life-sustaining attachment to the wall of the mother's womb.

The conscience implications here for a pharmacist with pro-life convictions are obvious, and are particularly acute for every pharmacist who takes seriously the Hippocratic Oath and the ethical obligation it imposes to "Above all, do no harm."

Pharmacists are drawn to the medical profession out of a desire to assist in therapeutic treatment. They are driven by a desire to heal, not to harm.

No pharmacist should be compelled to violate his own conscience or put his livelihood at risk by being pressured to dispense a drug that can endanger a human life and cause its death.

Our Founding Fathers would agree. They believed that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, and in fact may have considered it the most fundamental of all rights.

Thomas Jefferson said that no provision in the Constitution "ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority."

At another place, he said, "We are bound, you, I, every one, to make common cause...to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience."

James Madison, the Father of the Bill of Rights and author of the First Amendment, said, a man's conscience is "the most sacred of all property."

He elaborated: "The particular glory of this country (is) to have secured the rights of conscience which in other nations are least understood or most strangely violated."

George Washington advised all Americans to "labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

Tellingly, and right on point, he also said, "The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness: and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them."

Samuel Adams, the Father of the Revolution, likewise considered liberty of conscience to be an original right.

The United States Supreme Court likewise has affirmed conscience as a fundamental right, ruling in Cantwell v. Conn. that "Freedom of conscience...cannot be restricted by law."

The Court also upheld a conscience clause exempting men from the draft who were opposed to military service due to "religious training and belief," because war involves the ultimate matters of life and death.

My own father served as a medic rather than an infantryman in World War II because our nation granted Conscientious Objector status to those whose moral convictions prohibited them from taking human life even in the cause of a just war.

No pharmacist should be forced, against his own conscience, to dispense drugs that would make him, in his own judgment, an instrument of death.

Of the 50 states, 47 of them provide some degree of protection to healthcare providers who conscientiously object to certain procedures, indicating that it is the will of the American people through their elected representatives that we do not want to force healthcare providers to have to choose between their consciences and their livelihoods.

Among the first obligations assumed by medical professionals who take the Hippocratic Oath is, "Above all, do no harm." Professional pharmaceutical associations have given explicit recognition to freedom of conscience as a fundamental right for healthcare providers.

For instance, the American Pharmaceutical Association in its Code of Ethics includes this statement: "APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist's right to exercise conscientious refusal..."

And the American Society of Health-Care System Pharmacists recognizes "the right of pharmacists...to decline to participate in therapies they consider to be morally, religiously or ethically troubling."

No pharmacist with deep-seated conscience convictions, particularly on the subject of the sanctity of human life, should be forced to dispense drugs that in his judgment endanger human life rather than protecting it and healing it.

When pharmacist Jim Ineck gave testimony before the House Committee, he rehearsed for committee members the pressure he felt when hired by a Boise area hospital to dispense medication regardless of any religious or ethical qualms he may have had. He subsequently left that hospital for one friendlier to convictions of conscience.

Mr. Ineck told me after the hearing about a pharmacist friend of his who practiced in Illinois. After Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (yes, Blago himself) issued an edict in 2005 requiring all pharmacists to fulfill all prescriptions regardless of conscience scruples, Ineck's friend was fired from his job, had his license suspended for six months, and was forced to pay a hefty fine. This clearly is far from a merely theoretical issue.

A vote for HB 216 is a vote that puts lawmakers on the side of our Founding Fathers, the Supreme Court, lawmakers in 47 states, and leading professional medical associations.

That's good company to keep.

Pharmacist Jim Ineck gave testimony before the House Committee, and rehearsed for committee members the pressure he felt when hired by a Boise area hospital to dispense medication regardless of any religious or ethical qualms he may have had. He subsequently left that hospital for one friendlier to convictions of conscience.

Mr. Ineck told me after the hearing about a pharmacist friend of his who practiced in Illinois. After Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (yes, Blago himself) issued an edict in 2005 requiring all pharmacists to fulfill all prescriptions regardless of conscience scruples, Ineck's friend was fired from his job, had his license suspended for six months, and was forced to pay a hefty fine. This clearly is far from a merely theoretical issue.

On behalf of all of us in the IVA network, I sent a letter to each member of the Idaho House today, which you can read at the first link below. In the letter, I stress the noble history liberty of conscience has enjoyed in America, and suggest that it may well have been the most fundamental human and civil right of all in the minds of the Founders.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and Samuel Adams all explicitly affirmed the fundamental importance of protecting liberty of conscience in America. Madison referred to it as "the most sacred of all property," and Washington declared that "conscientious scruples" should be jealously guarded, and expressed his wish that "the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them."

© Bryan Fischer

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)