Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Case For Conscience

Every so often, I see an article and think, "If I wrote up a post about this, I bet I could land a link from SpeculativeCatholic -- it's his kind of thing." That's what I thought the other day when I saw this wonderfully alarmist editorial from National Catholic Reporter. Except Steve had got there first.

So instead, I'll link to him, and then spout off as usual...

Editorialist George Bryjak begins with a dark and stormy prospect:

Next in line to purchase the latest Harry Potter tale, you are informed by the cashier that the stories of J.K. Rowling are replete with black magic, wizards and warlocks, a masterpiece of Satanic deception designed to lure children into the occult. As selling these books runs contrary to her moral convictions, you leave the store empty-handed.
Heavens above, what could happen next? Well Bryjak tells us:

If you believe this scenario is wildly unrealistic, think again. "Refusal" clauses currently apply to both medical and nonmedical personnel and institutions, including physicians, nurses, hospitals, clinics, universities and insurance companies. Declining service is allowed on the basis of personal conscience, moral conflict and moral values.

To date, the greatest number of refusals occurs among the ranks of pharmacists who deny oral contraceptive pills and emergency contraception pills to women. There were 180 reported prescription denials over a six-month period in 2004, and according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive heath issues, "There seems to be a more organized campaign to allow pharmacists to refuse." Four states -- South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia -- currently permit pharmacists to refuse filling prescriptions, and eight more are considering legislation that would allow pharmacists to refuse dispensing contraceptives, abortifacients or other drugs on the basis of personal and/or religious objections.
Just on a points-scoring basis, it's interesting to see moral 'progressives' get all upset about conscience. After all, who is it who justifies everything by saying, "I can do whatever my conscience tells me is right"?

Really, though, what Bryjak has stumbled on to is the difficulty of having a pluralistic society, especially on major moral issues. We have long been told that pluralism and tolerance demand that we not tell others that they can't divorce, use contraceptives, contract same sex unions, etc simply because we ourselves believe these actions to be wrong. A pluralistic society, we are told, must have room for the beliefs of all its members.

Well and good. However, conscience is a two way switch, sometimes it tells you to do things and sometimes it tells you not to do things. And in an interdependent society, sometimes your conscience will tell you not to do something which someone else's conscience has told them to ask you to do. Who wins?

In a society which, by its nature, agrees to a single moral code, these questions are fairly easy. If you live in a Catholic community which admits to being such, then clearly anyone who asks a doctor to prescribe 'emergency contraception' is asking for something unacceptable. Of course, the US is not a Catholic community, and a serious portion of the US would that that it is not a Christian community either, but rather a community of individuals, many of whom are Christian.

If we really are to respect the conscience and sensibility of everyone involved, then it seems the only solution is to start breaking society a bit. You can't have a 'pluralistic society' without violating someone's conscience, as Europe has increasingly been discovering in its confrontation with Islam. If we are to live in a country containing many groups with diametrically opposed moral codes, then we'll have to learn to be separate sometimes, even if we are equal. If agnostics don't want the kind of care available from a Catholic doctor, they need to go to an agnostic doctor -- and Catholics need to go to a Catholic doctor. Instead of the fiction of neutral schools, we need to have Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Jewish and Secular Humanist schools.

Nor would this necessarily mean a tyranny within each sub-society. Dissenting Catholics who didn't like Catholic health care could always go to a secular hospital instead of a Catholic one. And secular humanists who didn't want to be put down at the first sign of trouble could always check into a Catholic hospital instead -- so long as they didn't mind all that came with that.

The only alternative to the constant pitched battle between each group trying to define 'our' national culture is to give each group full latitude to have its own fully self contained culture.

A rather immodest proposal. But it could be interesting... I'll make the first move: If Bryjak is right and I'm refused service when I try to purchase the next Harry Potter book, instead of cursing our pluralistic society I'll cheerfully head over to Amazon.


Anonymous said...

This is actually the reason that I like the idea of solving the whole gay marriage issue by abolishing legalized marriage entirely, and replacing it with some sort of "next-of-kin" procedure that could be used not only for significant others but also siblings, best friends, secretaries, and maiden aunts. Everybody would be equally oppressed, nobody would have to acknowledge a marriage that he considered illegitimate, and the question of what relationships get societal approval would be decided by society itself (or rather, societies, since we *are* a very splintered nation) instead of having the law try to engineer things.

Darwin said...

Though, to play the other side for a second, even giving each societal splinter more control over their own institutions will not stop the outrage and desire to stamp out evils among other groups.

E.g. having a complete pro-life health care system would not make pro-lifers any less unhappy about the fact that the parallel pro-choice medical system was cheerfully slaughtering innocents as fast as they could.

Steve said...

Actually, I almost didn't blog about it myself ... I think it's slightly off topic for me.

But the hypothetical scenario about Harry Potter tipped the balance.