A recent story detailed an interaction between a customer and a Walgreens pharmacist where, due to the pharmacist’s deeply held personal beliefs, the customer was denied a prescription for a birth control drug and made to go to a different pharmacy to have it filled. It’s important to note that Walgreens did not refuse to fill the prescription at all; their policy simply accommodates individual pharmacists who refuse to do their job and “allow” customers to fill their prescriptions at another Walgreens location where, presumably, a different pharmacist would be willing to fill it. Another note: this isn’t just a Walgreens thing; their policy reflects laws established at the state level allowing businesses to exercise discretion for conscientious objectors based on the employees’ moral or religious beliefs. In order to confirm the veracity of the story, I wrote an e-mail to Walgreens’ customer relations department and got the following response:
To fairly resolve these situations, and where allowed by state law, we believe it’s reasonable to respect the individual pharmacist’s beliefs by not requiring them to fill a prescription they object to on moral or religious grounds. We also believe it’s reasonable to meet our obligation to the patient by having another pharmacist at the store fill the prescription. If another pharmacist is not on duty, we will arrange to have the prescription filled at a nearby pharmacy before the patient leaves the store.
This is problematic for a number of reasons and I’d like to detail them here.
Employees Are Hired To Do a Job
All pharmacists go through schooling, training, and certification with the knowledge that they will be filling prescriptions for all legal, approved drugs with proper documentation from a patient’s physician. At no point would a prospective pharmacist be under the impression that any of these drugs don’t exist, aren’t used, or aren’t prescribed. At no point would a prospective pharmacist be under the impression that their training is subject to religious belief, personal moral stance, or any other individually-adopted rationale. When Walgreens hires pharmacists, they’re hiring them to dispense prescriptions for any drugs that Walgreens carries. When Walgreens carries birth-control drugs, the pharmacist should be obligated to dispense those drugs.
If the pharmacist is unwilling to dispense one or more drugs to patients/customers because they don’t like it, don’t agree with it, or don’t believe in it then that pharmacist is, by definition, not doing their job. In any other normal profession this would be grounds for corrective action or termination. If I, as a computer programmer, refused to write code on Wednesday because my deeply held personal beliefs dictated that Wednesday is a day of rest I would likely not have been hired, but would quickly be fired if I had. Given that my computer programming job is demonstrably less important than a pharmacist’s job, why would I be held to a higher standard of conduct and work ethic than them?
The Inconvenience To The Customer Is Greater Than The Inconvenience To The Pharmacist
Given that the only pharmacist available at this Walgreens on the day in question was the conscientious objector, the customer’s only option was to have the prescription transferred to another store and have another pharmacist fill it. If this customer is anything like me, they tried to fill the prescription at this Walgreens because it was nearby, accessible, and convenient. Having a religious person tell you they’re not going to fill a prescription (which is their job) because their personal beliefs tell them they shouldn’t participate in your sin is demeaning and hurtful. How much harm would it do for the pharmacist to do their job and then pray for forgiveness for both of you when their shift ends? How inconvenient would that be for the pharmacist? Not at all? Right.
Now, how do you think it makes the customer feel and how inconvenient do you think it is for them (especially in areas where pharmacies don’t grow out of every street corner) when an idiotic policy like this means they can’t get their prescription?
Walgreens’ Policy Doesn’t Solve The Problem
If a pharmacist objects to the dispensing of a drug because its use runs counter to his/her beliefs, then they’re making a statement that the recipient shouldn’t be allowed to have that drug. Walgreens’ policy of allowing that pharmacist to step to the side while another pharmacist (who isn’t an objector) dispenses the drug acknowledges outright that the objecting pharmacist’s beliefs are garbage, while at the same time prioritizing those garbage beliefs over the customers’ needs. It’s cognitive dissonance and a pointless, inconvenient workaround for a rule that accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Your Personal Beliefs Don’t Apply To Everyone
I’ve railed on this over and over and it looks like there will never come a time when it sinks in: what you personally believe has nothing to do with anybody but yourself. You’re free to make decisions for yourself on religious grounds or moral grounds but that doesn’t obligate another person on this planet to care or to make their decisions based on the same criteria. You don’t get to decide how other people live their lives. You don’t get to decide how other people behave. You don’t get to decide anything that extends beyond your armspan.
This isn’t rocket science and it doesn’t take a great philosopher to understand the difference between personal belief and real life. I simply cannot fathom how we’re still fighting over this in 2017.
Dispensing Drugs Is Not The Same As Using The Drugs
Even if you believe that birth control drugs are immoral (again, for yourself) you have to do mental gymnastics to come to the conclusion that dispensing them makes you complicit in a sin. Your sin would be using the birth control drugs in this case. Your job would be dispensing them. If your personal beliefs are so strict as to prevent you from filling a prescription yet so lax as to allow you to stand five feet away while someone else does, then your personal beliefs are stupid. Without apology or caveat, your beliefs are the most asinine, inconsistent, ridiculous, moronic, half-witted, stupid beliefs one could hold – including those of Sasquatch hunters and UFO abductees. You are quite literally hurting other people with your stupid beliefs. Stop it.
The Problem Exists At The Government Level
Walgreens’ policy isn’t just an arbitrary, one-off stance. This policy is based on the laws of states that explicitly call out exemptions and allowances for personal beliefs on religious liberty grounds. This topic has come up several times, as with Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and several others. Although I support the freedom to practice one’s religion I feel it comes with a duty to maintain it at the personal level and that when religious practices encroach on another person’s rights, that person’s rights take precedence over the other person’s religious freedom. See my previous point.
As long as we’ve got religious fanatics and fundamentalists in government (which will continue happening as long as religious fanatics and fundamentalists continue showing up at the polls) we’re going to have this problem. With the current administration I feel it could only get worse. This is yet another call to action for secular, progressive liberals who care about our freedoms and our rights as more important than another’s relationship with an invisible person. Call, write, and vote to keep America secular.