Friday, December 19, 2008

Trial courts will have to hear arguments about “morning-after” lawsuit

It is being described as a “blow” to the efforts of activists who want pharmacists to do their jobs and provide medication – regardless of their personal religious beliefs. The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the attempt to dismiss a lawsuit by religious pharmacists without hearing arguments was incorrect.

So now, this case will have to go back to a circuit court, where impassioned arguments both for and against will be heard, and some judge will have to put his personal and legal reputation on the line to make a ruling that is guaranteed to tick off a significant segment of the population – regardless of how he (or she) rules.

AT STAKE IS the “morning-after” pill; the pharmaceutical creation that supposedly allows women who have just had sexual intercourse to take the pill in hopes they can reduce the chances of their partner’s sperm actually fertilizing one of their eggs.

In short, they can reduce (although there are no guarantees that the pill will work 100 percent of the time) the chances of becoming pregnant.

Such medication was designed originally with the intent of helping women who were raped to avoid becoming impregnated by the man who committed a criminal act with their body. Some women would like to use the pills to ward off the chance of pregnancy so as to avoid taking birth control pills or using other contraceptive devices.

So supporters argue this medication is all a part of the concept of giving a woman more control over her own physical body.

BUT THAT IS the same logic used by abortion rights activists when they defend the notion of abortion being a legally available procedure throughout the United States. So naturally, the anti-abortion activists are determined to include this pill in their own arguments on the issue.

They are the ones who arranged for the legal representation for the pharmacists, al of whom argue that they personally oppose abortion and do not believe they should have to dispense any kind of medication they equate with termination of a pregnancy.

Not even if its purpose is to prevent a pregnancy from occurring that might later be terminated.

Generally, the law in our state does allow for pharmacists to get away with this logic, provided they are willing to give women entering their pharmacies the address of another pharmacy where they can receive such medication.

BUT IN THE case of the pharmacists involved in this lawsuit, they don’t even want to go that far. They want to be able to prevent women from having access to the pills anywhere.

Now I realize that pharmacists (strictly speaking) are not medical doctors, and are not bound by the same professional code of ethics as an M.D. So perhaps there is some arcane portion of pharmaceutical ethics that justifies refusing a medication to a person who could use it properly.

But it has always been my understanding that doctors have a certain ethical responsibility to make their treatment available to people who need it. I was never aware of anything that would allow a doctor to refuse to treat a patient because he had some sort of personal disagreement with the person who was ill.

It is even standard procedure in wartime that doctors working with the military will provide treatment for wounds suffered by people on both sides of a military conflict (unless one literally has the mentality of the old “Frank Burns” character from “M*A*S*H” – the film and television show).

MY POINT IN delivering this diatribe? Where does a pharmacist come off denying medication to anyone? I have a hard time thinking that such conduct complies with an ethical code of conduct for the profession.

I would think that if someone really has such qualms about providing medications to people, they ought to think seriously about finding another line of work.

Like I noted before, state law does allow pharmacists to refer women to other pharmacies so they can get the medication. If a pharmacist is willing to pass one someone’s business, that’s their choice. When it comes down to it, that sense of choice and free will is “the American Way.”

But trying to deny the medication outright is NOT the “American Way,” particularly if it involves rural communities where there simply isn’t a lot of choice by people as to where they can purchase their medications.

IT WOULD SEEM to me that pharmacists in those communities are trying to use the limited economic opportunity of rural America to enforce their own code of social morality, which offends me because I always thought a large part of what this country is about consists of allowing people to be left alone – provided their activities do not interfere with others.

I think people ought to spend more time worrying about their own morals and not everybody else’s.

Even though I use this weblog to offer up commentary (and can occasionally get “preachy” about what people ought to do), I also realize this is just a matter of offering up opinion on issues of public concern.

I have always been aware of the fact that not everybody else will agree with me, and has the right to ignore my opinion no matter how correct I am and how wrong they are.

INSOFAR AS THE Illinois Supreme Court’s latest ruling is concerned, it is a little troubling to me in that I would have liked this particularly lawsuit to be over. In my opinion, it qualifies as one of those “frivolous” lawsuits that conservatives and tort reform advocates always say are what is wrong with the legal system today.

Yet the high court disagreed, and now both sides will have to have attorneys argue the merits of the case. I am confident that the lower courts will ultimately do the right thing. They have a knack of doing so, and often are the entity that prevents government officials from going too far with politically partisan behavior turned into public policy.

If that means women ultimately will get to decide for themselves whether they would want to use such a pill (after all, no one will force it down the throat of a woman who has her own moral qualms about abortion), that strikes me as being the correct outcome.


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