Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No place for culture war

Certain professions require practitioners to selflessly rise above the personal to devote their best efforts to needs of the public. Count among them fire and police, classroom teachers, nurses and physicians, and military services.

No less vital to public welfare are pharmacists, partners in medicine who dispense medications critical to health.

That would change in Idaho if state Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, is successful with legislation to allow pharmacists to impose their personal "conscience" on what medications they disburse.

"Conscience"? That's merely a disguise for what this bill really is—spreading the culture war against abortion. Loertscher's intent is to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and morning-after pills. As state Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise, points out, a small-town drug store with a single pharmacist might well be in the position to deny urgent medications to patients.

Conscience can be a capricious and elastic hiding place for all sorts of biases. Would it be a matter of "conscience" for a Muslim pharmacist, for example, to refuse to fill medications for a Jew, or visa versa, because of age-old enmities in the Middle East?

Legalizing the right of pharmacists to impute moral values to medications is a perilous step toward inhibiting medicine's responsibility to patients.

Imagine the chaos if "conscience" were to overcome members of other essential community services and they declined to fulfill their obligations to the public?

Idaho lawmakers have far graver demands on their time than enacting this ill-conceived and petty legislation.

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