A California court has barred doctors from invoking their religious beliefs as a reason to deny treatment to gays and lesbians (Tulsa World, 8/19/08). This is a variation on the situation where pharmacists are making personal decisions about filling prescriptions based on their religious beliefs. It may come to the point where specific doctors or pharmacists will refuse to provide services to any gay people at all. Even now, some pharmacists are putting their religious beliefs above the opinion of a physician by refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and even simple birth control pills. At some point, this type of discrimination will clog our courts with ridiculous and unnecessary law suits.
What's next? There are hundreds of different religions in this country, each with its own beliefs in dozens of areas. Will Christian physicians or pharmacists be able to refuse to serve Muslims, Jews or Atheists? Will Seventh Day Adventists refuse to give products to aid organ transplants or blood transfusions? Will the nurses, technicians, emergency workers, and assistants at every level of health care be permitted to determine individually who they will care for based on their personal religious beliefs? This can only lead to chaos in the medical profession. And it most certainly will spread from the medical world into other professions. If this type of discrimination is allowed to continue, it will touch almost all of our lives at some point, and will certainly become a threat to everyone's health care.
This is not a freedom of religion issue. It is a freedom from religion issue. No one with the degree of power that a physician or pharmacist has over people's lives has the right to impose their religious convictions on their patients. If these zealots can't serve all of the public as health workers, then they need to chose a profession where they don't deal with the public or where their beliefs won't cause irreparable harm to others.
Barbara Santee, Ph.D. is the former Oklahoma director for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and a past member of the ACLU's state board, Santee has spent decades defending reproductive choice and religious liberty.