The Limits of “Conscience”

The wingnuts are screeching that we must allow Catholic bishops to dictate the nation’s health insurance policies, because otherwise we are violating their religious conscience. As one non-Catholic explained,

As Americans–Catholics and Baptists alike–we are in absolute agreement on the inviolable freedom of conscience, a right recognized and guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution to every American citizen.

“Religious exemptions” are being granted to pharmacists who don’t want to fill birth control prescriptions. As Mistermix wrote,

Tebow and his only begotten son Bieber help us if this keeps up, because we’re going to have a medical profession full of delicate conscientious objectors whose heartfelt beliefs keep them from doing their goddam job. Where does this idiocy end? If you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, whose religion forbids blood transfusions, and you want to become a trauma surgeon, will some federal judge support your right to let your patients bleed to death?

We may be closer to that than you realize. Charles Pierce points to the measles epidemic in Indiana and notes a connection to religion:

The state health authorities in Indiana have released a list of possible places where the victims of the outbreak may have contracted the disease. Several of them, including the College Park Church in Indianapolis and a basketball tournament for homeschooled children, are intriguing because of the cross-pollination between fundamentalist Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. In 2005, a young Indiana woman came home from a mission trip to Romania and kicked off another measles outbreak within the congregation of her church. …

…In 1985, across the border in Illinois, there was a measles outbreak at Principia College, a Christian Science institution. There were 112 confirmed cases and three deaths associated with that outbreak. Between that episode and 1994, there were four large-scale measles outbreaks at Christian Science institutions around St. Louis. By the way, Principia College still maintains a religious exemption from the requirements of Illinois law mandating proof of vaccination.Instead, Principia students can present an “accommodation form” stating their religious objections to vaccination.

And, never fear, a number of states are considering bills that would exempt school children from vaccinations if their parents object for “philosophical” reasons.

I don’t know if anyone has died in the current Indiana outbreak, but all but two of the cases reported have occurred in anti-vaccination families.

A lot of us geezers caught measles when we were kids, and recovered in a few days. But it tends to be harder for adults, and the disease can be fatal. And then there’s German measles, which causes horrific birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected. Are the whackjobs going to start that up again?

I believe a lot of states have allowed Christian Scientists to slide on the vaccination thing, but since there are so few of them it didn’t cause that much of a problem. I’m reading that now about 10 percent of families with small children are refusing or delaying at least some vaccinations, if not all of them, believing the shots are dangerous. Like the diseases they prevent aren’t?

I believe most states hold parents responsible if a child dies from a curable disease and the parents refused to seek medical help on religious grounds. So there’s a limit to “conscience.” You can refuse medical care for yourself, but not for your minor child. But the vaccination issue points to how interdependent we really are, and how a decision made for oneself could impact a lot of other people. And, IMO, where lives are on the line, your “conscience” has to take a back seat to reality.

This is getting ridiculous. So I’m pushing back on the notion that “religious conscience” trumps all other considerations. My modest proposal is that at the very least, anyone who has not received all recommended vaccinations must be required to wear some kind of ID badge or bracelet, so the rest of us know to keep our distance from them. I suspect a lot of folks will quickly decide that maybe vaccines aren’t so bad after all.

38 thoughts on “The Limits of “Conscience”

  1. You don’t have to be an expert in constitutional law to know that there are two sides to the religious freedom the First Amendment guarantees us: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. Of course these pharmacists and anti-vaccinators and so forth with their delicate consciences are only interested in the free exercise part, to the point where they appear to believe it actually trumps the establishment clause. What their argument really boils down to is that their religion requires them to force their beliefs on everyone else, so if they aren’t allowed to do that then their freedom is being trampled upon.

    That’s why the establishment clause comes first in the text of the First Amendment. It’s also why there’s a bumper sticker that says “Against abortion? Don’t have one!” The free exercise clause only extends to one’s own actions, because the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience to everyone–not just Catholics, but also non-Catholics who happen to be employed by Catholic institutions.

    Or, in other words, if your conscience won’t permit others to follow their own conscience, tough shit.

  2. There are many different religions, and many different religious laws.

    If I were Muslim or Jewish, and worked in a grocery, can I now refuse to ring-up your bacon, frank’s and beans, pork loin, shrimp, and lobster? Or, a ham and cheese sandwich you got at the deli?
    “Non-Kosher TRAIF!” “Non-Halal!!!” “Unclean! UNCLEAN!!! I refuse to touch these things, they’re against my religion! Get back in line at the next aisle!!! The goy/infidel there will be happy to serve you. No, wait, he prays to the God of Pork, and Mother Seafood, and is against the killing of their dieties earthly representations, so maybe come back late tonight, when the DFH’s are working. ”

    And, in many religions, suicide is a sin, so would selling Cheeto’s, Mountain Dew, and bacon bits, to fat people, or Oreo’s and Twix bars to diabetic’s, be against my religious convictions, so I can refuse to sell those as well because I believe I’m helping in you shortening your life?

    This is the f*cking stupidest sh*t I’ve ever heard of in my entire in my life!
    And, yet, the Conservatives seem willing to make this argument – and the supply of stupid and ignorant Americans seem endless, so it may very well work. The fact that people aren’t dying in the streets from laughter is frightening.
    But, then again, no one seems too overly worried about sending their kids to schools with the WMD’s that are other people children, so, wtf do I know? If I found out my child got sick of a disease that was preventable from your child, I would sue you for the cost of healing, or burying, my child, because of YOUR neglect.
    How muck more f*cking insane can this f*cking country get?
    Wait! Don’t answer that…

    • There’s probably a reason why I never see orthodox Jews working the checkout lines at the Stop n Shop. But in Maha World, a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for philosophical or religious reasons would lose his license. I’m pretty sure that a nurse who willfully refuses to administer a treatment or medicine ordered by a doctor might get his/her license suspended, and I don’t know why it would be different for druggists.

      Here’s another idea — anyone who refuses immunization for himself or a child ought to be required to sign an affadavit acknowledging that they understand this decision puts other people’s health at risk, and they may potentially be financially liable for other people’s medical bills if an infection can be traced to them.

  3. WAAAAAAY OT – but it looks like AZ’s Governor is trying to position herself as a VP candidate:

    Governor “Crazy Aunt Jan Got Out of the Attic, Ran for Governor, and WON!” Brewer won’t’ go to Obama’s dinner for the nation’s governors, because she doesn’t want to go to a “social” event. Translation: “I won’t break bread with that f*cking Nigra!”
    She will, however, apparently attend the official meetings.

    I’m sure NJ’s Governor, Chris, “Bag o’ Donuts” Christie will be there for the dinner, because the last time that boy skipped a meal, it was because his parents sent him to bed without his supper.

  4. maha,
    I like that idea.
    You have to get car insurance. And if you don’t, and get into an accident – YOU’RE the one liable for any damages.
    Immunization is sort of like a form of insurance for your kid’s health – and the health of other children. If you opt out, and your kid get’s other people’s children sick – you SHOULD be held liable.

    I can’t believe that in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century, we’re even having these stupid f*cking discussions.

    What’s next?
    “Hey, I said no camera’s, no pictures – YOU’RE STEALING MY SOUL!!!”

  5. It looks like, even with the Right wing media constantly pumping this up, it’s an issue with no traction. It is helping the president, Big Time, because it clearly shows the two parties are not equally corrupt; the GOP is in a class by itself.

    If you are not able to follow employment laws, or dispense drugs, or get up to date with your shots because some nut case with a Bible told you not to, then you should not be an employer or a pharmacist– PERIOD. If you are a potential carrier of measles or rubella, or etc. you should STAY home (and maybe die) rather than infecting others who, for medical reasons, might not be able to take certain vaccines (egg allergies in the case of flu shots, whatever).

  6. I think I will convert to the Aztec religion. Then I will have a constitutional right to cut out people’s hearts with an obsidian knife.

  7. I am a mailman. Most mail carriers belong to a union (there are two). and it would not be a gross exageration to sa most are democrats. So how do the republicans feel about giving mailman the ‘right of conscience’ to decide what mail to discard, in this an election year?

    Do NOT misunderstand me. I have never let my political beliefs affect the way I do my job, and I suspect that’s overwhelmingly true of ALL carriers, even if we tend to be liberal. This is professionalism – and it extends across the spectrum of jobs from teachers to mailmen to pharmacists to ER techs. We do our jobs without bias – but these morons want to introduce their bias without risk of sanction. (like getting fired)

  8. “I think I will convert to the Aztec religion.”

    But, I hear the Mayans are having a close-out special this year!

  9. Stephen,
    But in order to convert, you’d have to learn to spell the names of all of their God’s.
    And buying vowel’s can be expensive now-a-days…

  10. Oh dear. With time I could probably learn to spell Chalchiuhtlicue or Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, but Itztlacoliuhqui forbid I should ever have to learn to pronounce them.

  11. In most matters pitting the individual against the greater good, we choose the individual. The absurd lengths that you can take this argument means that no one has to do anything they do not personally believe in, making society inoperable. We have taken this to the ludicrous end, where we are truly just 310 million people who happen to live next to each other. Most societies are really greater than the sum of their parts, I believe we are less. I mean, really, what does it mean to be an American anymore other than just Freedom to do whatever the hell you feel like.

  12. Someone in that Balloon Juice thread linked to a picture of chickenpox. I believe this is a situation where making a person — the parents who do not want a vaccination done — should be made to see the picture, to see this child covered with skin lesions and then make them sign a statement that they understand their child could affect the herd immunity and make all child vulnerable to a possibly fatal disease.

    Years ago I read a bunch of books about various public health fights and the research that went into finding answers for various problems. It wasn’t easy, not everyone agreed but those doctors, nurses and social workers leading the battles accomplished something of value and these nincompoops think it’s fine to make us all vulnerable again. (Please excuse the rant but I’d prefer not to relive history.)

  13. MY bad, the picture I’m thinking of was smallpox; but I think my point still stands. The anti-vaxers should see what they could be working so hard to bring about.

  14. When the Spaniard’s tired to convert the Aztec God’s names to their native language, I think they helped the demise by dis-envoweling them.

  15. I like CU’s idea. Next time you are in a National Park and some rightwingnut yahoo comes along and takes a picture of you, you should rush up to them, take their camera, throw it on the ground, and stomp on it until it is in small pieces. Then you explain in very calm language that your religion requires you to do that in order to save your soul.

    I doubt they would “get” it, but it could be a lot of fun (especially in court)!

  16. To Doug,
    Thank you for being a mailman. I have the highest regard for your profession. There isn’t a better deal in town than the price of a stamp. I read where 35,000 people in the postal service were going to be laid off soon. I am sorry to hear that. No doubt there is a Republican involved in that decision. I hope you keep your job and keep working.

    As to the other issue, the consciencious objector thing should be brought up in the first year of getting a degree. All those who believe that they should not provide a request for a drug that is on some conscieniously-objected-to list should be dropped out of school in the first year and never be able to graduate as a full-fledged pharmacist. It’s the kind of job that no exceptions should be allowed–ever.

  17. Here’s an anecdote that should (but probably won’t) desolate with wingnuts. From urban legends,

    “recapped in Herbert L. Abrams’ book, The President Has Been Shot, as follows:

    3:24 p.m. Reagan was wheeled into the operating room. He had lost about 2,100 cc of blood, but his bleeding had slowed and he had received 4 1/2 replacement units. As he was moved from the stretcher to the operating table, he looked around and said, “Please tell me you’re all Republicans.” Giordano, a liberal Democrat, said, “We’re all Republicans today.”

    There’s a little dispute about wording, but no dispute that the incident happened. RR is not my favorite president, but he showed some class and courage that day. But what’s germane to the discussion is the eaction

  18. sorry – reaction of the surgeon, “a liberal democrat” who had not a moment’s hesitation reassuring the LOTUS thither was going to receive care without compromise.

  19. Here in Washington state we’ve been wrestling with this whole ‘pharmacist conscience’ problem for a few years now. This latest court ruling totally pisses me off. I can only hope the GWB appointed judge will AGAIN be over-ruled by the full circuit court, as he was in 2007, the last time he came up with some bogus reasoning to block this rule.

    I’m reasonably sure that there is nothing in the Bible against giving people pharmaceuticals. So they aren’t actually being asked to violate their religion. I’m totally fine with it if the pharmacist doesn’t want to use Plan B. We shouldn’t force them to.

    But they’re asking for the ability to not do something that might enable someone ELSE to do something that violates that religion, a religion they may not even believe in. Telling someone else that they can’t get an urgent treatment, because their licensed pharmacist won’t do the job the state passes laws and regulations to permit them to do, that isn’t “religious freedom”.

    That’s religious domination.

    What’s next, bus drivers who won’t drive their bus past synagogues or mosques, because they don’t believe passengers should go there?

  20. OT – but a very interesting article about what’s behind our current dysfunctional Congress, and the root cause:
    Air conditioning.
    Read it, and find out why – and yes, it does make sense:

    Back on topic:
    Religious vegetarian cabdrivers who refuse to take passengers to steak houses.

    Christian/Muslim cabdrivers who refuse to take passengers to strip clubs.
    Rastafarian cabdrivers who’ll take you wherever you want to go, but smoke joint’s of killer weed while driving you there – albeit, a bit erratically.

  21. A few years back, here in Florida, a very young boy was attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. His parents decided it was better to pray over him than to get him to an emergency room, and the child died.

    Things like this were rare when I was a kid, but seem to be more common now.
    Also, when I was young, I don’t remember nearly as many people running around quoting scripture or tying current events with end times eschatology.
    I don’t know when things went wrong, but the timing belt appears to have slipped
    I do remember the “Nostradamus” craze in the late 70’s, but that was replaced with Biblical bastardization which grew into this warped world view.
    Talk about cognitive dissonance.
    People seem to have forgotten that “religious freedom” is also freedom from religion.
    I can only imagine what the same people who love Tim Tebo’s overt religiosity would do if a Muslim NFL player were to show up with a prayer rug at half time.

  22. erinyes,
    I think it all comes from the infusion of Christianista’s into the Republican Party.

    Once Reagan’s people made the decision to welcome them with open arms, they became the footsoldiers not just ‘for Christ,’ but for Reagan and the Republicans. They became the most active part of ‘the base.’ And, Republicans hoping to win elections, had to kowtow to them. And this meant, they had to frame issues in ways that appealed to this religious base.
    And, though they promised them the moon, the powers-that-be used them as wedges. They promised to eliminate abortion, and to make America a less secular, more religious country – but continued on in their mission of moving taxpayer money, and the middle classes money, into the hands of their cronies, and rich people. The “Religious Right” were willing stooges in all of this, continuing to hope that Republican politicians WOULD do what they promised. And they waited through Regan, who did do a few things. And they waited through “Papa Doc” Bush. They were mobilized against the Democrats, and when “Papa Doc” lost his reelection bid to Clinton, they were mobilized for the 1994 Congressional races – where they did have an influence.
    And then along came “Baby Doc” Bush, and the whole “Compassionate Conservative” message was aimed not only at them, but at the idiotic independents who are too stupid, ignorant, or lazy, and to easily manipulated by a compliant and complicit MSM, who had themselves, been manipulates by the Conservative powers-that-be.
    And “Baby Doc” won. With epically disastrous results. His area’s of success, besides tax cuts for the rich, were in infusing more religion into government, the courts, and education.
    Now came Obama, and the Christianista’s, the John Bircher’s, and the KKK elements all merged into the Teabagger movement.
    All of of this was leading to Republican politicians being more and more religious, to secure and motivate “their base” – and this happened even before 2000 – but since then it has escalated dramatically.
    So now, we’re faced with a potential Christianista President (and Mormons ARE Christianista’s), with Christianist’s in the majority of both houses of Congress. And a long line of religious judges from the SCOTUS on down.
    If we lose in 2012, the results will be catastrophic. And if it’s Romney that’s defeated by Obama, they may well redouble their efforts in ’14 and ’16. That’s why I’m ‘sorta’ hoping that Rick The Uber-pious” Santorum is the nominee. If he loses badly, it may finally force the Conservative powers-that-be to rethink their whole experiment with the “Religious Right.” Maybe not. And if Santorum does win, I think he’ll be only slightly more insane than Mitt – who’d have to prove his Conservative bona fides on a daily basis.
    We are THIS close to being the Dominionist Christian Corporate States of American.
    And if that doesn’t motivate people to come out in support of Obama and the Democrats, I don’t know what can.
    And sure, there are some “Liberal” and “Progressive” people who want Romney or Santorum to win, thinking they’ll badly overplay their hand – but they are stupid. We need to ask them, “At what price, that ‘victory?'”
    This nation has barely survived 8 years of “Baby Doc” Bush. I don’t think we can survive a Romney or Santorum Presidency for long, especially if they control both houses. And I don’t think the world can either.
    We’re at a ‘tipping point.’ Both for this country, and for the world.

    Boy, THAT was a long one!

  23. “Someone in that Balloon Juice thread linked to a picture of chickenpox. I believe this is a situation where making a person — the parents who do not want a vaccination done — should be made to see the picture, to see this child covered with skin lesions and then make them sign a statement that they understand their child could affect the herd immunity and make all child vulnerable to a possibly fatal disease.”

    Nah– it’s more important to stick invasive probes in women who WANT medical treatment.

    • They didn’t invent the chicken pox vaccine soon enough, and both my kids came down with it. I think I was about as miserable as they were.

  24. Mr. Gulag, I’ve been thinking for some time that a parliamentary system (with all IT’S flaws) would work better for us than what we have now.

  25. I think we’ll all be relieved when the Rapture happens. Then maybe the rest of us can get back to finding solutions for our real problems.

  26. Lynne, I have a feeling that when the Rapture happens, we’re going to have a bunch of surprised, disappointed and very cranky Christianistas on our hands. Jesus is going to be busy telling a lot of these folks, “You thought I wanted what??!! Are you kidding?”

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