Not the fertility clinic’s cup of joe

coffeemug2I completely gave up coffee (quelle horreur!) when I found out I was pregnant late last year. Later I was told by my wonderful doctor that I could have up to 300 mg or so of caffeine a day. I promptly left her office and went to the nearest coffee shop. Over the months of pregnancy, a fascinating thing has happened to me. While no one has begrudged me an occasional sip of wine or my husband’s beer — no disapproving looks, even — I have had tremendous trouble ordering coffee.

This is a phenomenon I’ve experienced solely with baristas from African countries, although I’m not sure if correlation is causation. It happens even at places like Starbucks. I’ve been asked to reconsider. I’ve been refused service. I’ve ordered a regular cup of coffee, only to be served decaffeinated. It’s amazing. Coffee, while important to me, is not so important that I would cause a stink about not being served. In fact, if it troubles someone to serve me, I wouldn’t want to force them to do so.

All this to say that refusal of service is a very contentious issue and one that is being highlighted in recent medical cases. We’re all familiar with pharmacists getting in trouble for refusing to provide the so-called “morning after” pill. Frequently these pharmacists explain that it would violate their religious conscience to provide it to patients.

USA Today‘s Laura Parker had a very interesting article about the issue. She writes that doctors are also refusing to artificially inseminate patients, use fetal tissues or prescribe Viagra:

No doctor is required to perform particular treatments.

The collision between religious freedom and rules against discrimination occurs when physicians perform procedures selectively, offering them to some patients but withholding them from others, says Jill Morrison, legal counsel to the National Women’s Law Center.

This year in a case generating wide interest, the California Supreme Court will hear a first-of-its-kind lawsuit: fertility treatment denied to a lesbian.

In Washington state, a gay man recently settled out of court with a doctor who refused to prescribe him Viagra.

“He told me he had prescribed certain drugs for married people, but he wasn’t going to do that for me,” Jonathan Shuffield says. “It was very painful having the trust broken between my doctor and me.”

Patrick Gillen, legal counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based public interest law firm that defends religious freedom, says the political clout of gays and lesbians has led to a situation that “is ripe for conflict.” Gillen says no doctors should be required to perform procedures that violate their religious faith, especially “if the patients can get the treatment elsewhere.”

It’s a very brief and well-written story about the issue. In a separate piece, the same reporter looks at the lesbian artificial insemination case in greater detail. She begins by asking when the freedom to practice religion becomes discrimination. Apparently the answer is more complicated than my knee-jerk response of “Frequently. Which right — to practice religion or be free from discrimination — is given more legal weight?”

Parker explains that the California Supreme Court is being asked to decide how to accommodate a physician’s religious views without violating California’s anti-discrimination laws. He declined to offer in-vitro fertilization to Guadalupe Benitez, an unmarried woman, who is also a lesbian. The story ends with this fantasticly ironic quote:

Benitez, meanwhile, received treatment at another facility and has given birth to a son, now 5, and twin daughters, now 2.

“People ask me, ‘Why are you doing this? You have your kids,’” she says. “I want to make a difference. These doctors are not God. They cannot manipulate who can have children and who cannot.”

. . . once again reminding me that there are always religious ghosts in these stories about reproduction.

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  • http://wannabeanglican.blogspot.com/ WannabeAnglican

    Wow. The hypocrisy of these . . . I don’t know what polite word to call them . . . is amazing. They DEMAND to do whatever they please AND that others help them out or else! So I guess freedom is only for them and those who want to enable their immorality.

  • Eric Chaffee

    Point #1: Americans do not have a Constitutional right ‘not to be offended.’

    Point #2: NYT (Week in Review) had a good article Sunday about the network of consciousness, by Gina Kolata (you know, Piña’s sister), entitled You, Your Friends, Your Friends of Friends, in which she makes some interesting observations about problems with social judgmentalism (for lack of a better descriptor) and its connection to health. She would have done well to add a link to biology-professor Rupert Sheldrake’s work at Cambridge (Oxford?) on this one. Beware of crossing people’s mental convictions, especially while your carrying! The article mentions its impetus being a study appearing in NEJournal of Medicine. As a Christian Scientist, I find it amusing that the doctors are belatedly trying to catch up with Eddy’s observations of a century ago.

    ~eric.

  • Stephen A.

    They cannot manipulate who can have children and who cannot.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! That is probably the (unintentionally) funniest quote I’ve seen in a long time! Wow!

    Another aspect of the issue that’s been in the news a lot is the issue of pharamcists’s rights NOT to prescribe medication. The examples used in this story are newer situations and good examples to use. But I’d the for someone to think this is a NEW moral dilemma.

    I’m a bit surprised that some doctor had to settle out of court with someone after refusing to give him Viagra. It’s available at multiple locations, certainly from multiple doctors, and even online.

    Mollie, no one gave you trouble about seeing you sip wine? I would think that would be more of an issue for people than coffee.

    If I were in your situation (and, as a guy, I never will be) I’d carry a note from your doctor about the coffee, and smirk when you hand the clerk a copy, saying (loudly) “OH, that’s OK, I have a note from my doctor.” ;-)

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  • Jerry

    Frequently. Which right — to practice religion or be free from discrimination — is given more legal weight?

    It would take someone with the proverbial wisdom of Solomon to untangle this issue. Typically, the media response is to cover the conflict as if it were a boxing match – tracking which side is landing better blows and seeking to score the result. The USA today story you cited is, I think, better than average.

    But I will note that what is missing is a comment about a priori full disclosure. If I know ahead of time what a doctor will and won’t do, I can make my choice accordingly. And there’s a multitude of questions in the simple, reasonable sounding statement that

    no doctors should be required to perform procedures that violate their religious faith, especially “if the patients can get the treatment elsewhere.”

    Of course that sounds fine in theory. But where is the discussion about what the balance is where a patient can’t get treatment elsewhere because they live in an area where there are no doctors offering such treatment.

    It’s perhaps one thing where we’re talking about pregnancy and viagara, what if the life or health of the patient is an issue in cases such as this:

    use of fetal tissue in the development of chicken pox and measles vaccines also has become an issue.

    The article was correct to raise those points. Now, we need to see articles going much, much more in depth.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    . . . once again reminding me that there are always religious ghosts in these stories about reproduction.

    I want to use this for my Christmas cards this coming December! :)

    The issue of faith, values, and who to serve/not serve has not only many facets of religious issues, but also many facets of political issues. What if we have a government-sponsored (i.e., taxpayer, i.e., you&me) system of health care. How do these issues get sorted out then?

  • Dale

    Of course that sounds fine in theory. But where is the discussion about what the balance is where a patient can’t get treatment elsewhere because they live in an area where there are no doctors offering such treatment.

    Well, then, we should pass a law requiring doctors who do provide the treatment to move to the area. And allow people to sue them for copious damages if they don’t.

    Heck, if we’re going to horse-trade away freedom of conscience for some doctors, I think other doctors’ personal liberty is up for grabs, too.

  • http://lowly.blogspot.com Undergroundpewster

    Jerry, we will not see the wisdom of Solomon coming from the California Supreme Court.

  • Steve

    We have seen this before. In Massachuettes, a Roman Catholic agency that provided aboption services was forced by the state to provide the adoption services to homosexual couples who wished to adopt. The agency stopped providing this important service since they did not want to go against the Christian teaching that homosexaul activities are a sin and they did not want to condone such activities as recognizing the homosexaul couple as been equal to a hetrosexual couple. The real losers of the state’s actions were children who could have been adopted through this agency.

  • http://blackphi.blog-city.com/ BlackPhi

    I wonder how far it is reasonable to push this ‘religious freedom’ idea. To force an RC adoption agency to service homosexual couples or close down (this looks like happening in the UK too) may seem excessive. But then there are religious groups who believe that racially-mixed marriages are wrong – how far should they be allowed to discriminate? What about religious groups who believe that some races are only allowed to be “servants of servants”. Should we go back to the days of “no blacks” signs outside hotels and restaurants? How about “No kafirs”?

    I’m not sure about Mollie’s ‘knee-jerk’ appeal to the law on this – US state laws, in particular, have a regrettable history in such areas. Laws have a habit of favouring the most powerful groups against the least powerful.

    Is there a more ‘Christian’ response to balancing such freedoms and responsibilities, or is it all simply about prejudice and power? Remembering that racist groups can quote Scripture as well as anybody else.

  • bob

    I know a pharmacist who was amazed to see that a patient, being treated with many medications to treat his AIDS, was also being prescribed Viagra. Has the medical profession any brains at all? Would you give a Zippo to a patient with lung cancer?


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