Death and Wal-Mart.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Feb. 25 2006 8:07 AM

Death and Wal-Mart

Pharmacists, physicians, and the right of conscience.

(Continued from Page 1)

Physicians and pharmacists who refuse to participate in what they deem killing have more in common than many of us might like to admit. But the most important distinction between them has to do with their differing relationship with patients. The law recognizes that doctors' special relationships with their patients warrant a legal privilege: Their discussions are kept secret. You may like and trust your pharmacist. You may even trust him with intimate details about your yeast infection. But your pharmacist has neither the tools nor the right to probe details about rape and abuse, incest and health risks. Which is why pharmacists who interpose themselves between decisions made by a doctor and her patient are overstepping moral and ethical boundaries—and undermining another professional relationship that is fundamentally different from their own. You needn't believe that one relationship is more important than the other to recognize that neither relationship should be allowed to intrude upon the other.

The right of conscience, ultimately, is a subjective one. And no one disputes that a pharmacist's moral objection to dispensing certain drugs is as heartfelt or urgent as a physician's refusal to inject lethal doses of sodium thiopental. But as a legal or legislative matter, the inquiry should begin, not end, with that moral objection. Legal regimes that balance an individual's right to opt out against safeguards for patients (like making it the pharmacy's responsibility to provide timely alternatives) are good compromises. This is why, if physicians cannot supervise executions in accordance with their professional obligations, we will probably need to devise some new form of capital punishment that does not require a doctor's intervention to ensure against violent, painful death.

Advertisement

There should and will always be space in this county for conscientious objectors. But it cannot and should not follow that murder is murder is murder.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?