Liberty in Religion and Medicine

Today’s Denver Post published a letter from Kaye Fissinger titled, “Church and medicine.” She argues that Catholic churches should not be able to practice “Catholic doctrine on birth control, sterilization and abortion.”

Following is my online reply:

I advocate the separation of church and state. I also advocate freedom and individual rights — a free market — in medicine. Kaye Fissinger’s position violates both ideals.

Women have the right to get an abortion — from willing providers. Patients do not have the right to force hospitals or doctors to offer abortions — or any procedure — against their judgment.

Likewise, customers do not have the right to demand that any business provide some good or service. You have no right to require that a car dealer sell the truck you want to buy, or a grocer particular produce, or a book store a particular book. If you walked into a Marxist bookshop and demanded to purchase Ayn Rand, for instance, that would be a violation of the bookstore’s right of free speech. You do, however, have every right not to shop at that store.

The ones who properly set policy at a hospital are its owners. If a church owns a hospital, the church properly decides policy there. The owners do owe potential patients full disclosure regarding their faith-based policies. I would choose to do business elsewhere.

Doctors who disagree are free to work elsewhere. If you work for a bookstore, you agree to sell the books the owners wish to sell. The principle is no different when it comes to medicine. If you wish to sell different books or perform different medical procedures, get a job someplace else.

Hospitals should not need to rely on “conscience clauses” to protect their rights of property and contract. Likewise, a bookstore owner who dislikes pornography or some other sort of publication should not have to pass some “conscience” test to abstain from selling such works. Yet the logical implication of Fissinger’s view is that somebody should be able to walk into a Christian bookstore and demand a book praising abortion, atheism, Satanism, or whatever (or into an atheist bookstore and demand a copy of the Bible).

Fissinger’s interpretation of the First Amendment is completely wrong. The First Amendment prohibits state establishment of religion. It does not guarantee lack of dominance of some doctrine. For example, 75 percent of Americans are Christian. The First Amendment does not require mass conversion to other religions in order to prevent Christian “dominance.”

The fundamental problem in medicine is that there is no free market in health care. Governments spend more than half of all health-care dollars. Tax-funded hospitals, like tax-funded schools, should not be able to impose any faith-based practice. The solution to this problem is not to expand political control of hospitals, but to return to liberty in medicine.

3 thoughts on “Liberty in Religion and Medicine”

  1. “The ones who properly set policy at a hospital are its owners.”

    The ones who set policy are the customers whose money is accepted.

  2. Dave, your comment is frankly ridiculous.

    It is true that businesses (on a free market) earn money by providing goods and services that willing customers pay to obtain, and in that sense customers help direct policy. A business that finds no willing customers will (again on a free market) go out of business.

    Yet, obviously, businesses decide what goods and services to sell and how to operate their properties, and businesses all the time tell customers that they don’t offer this or that good or service.

    Property owners properly set policy for the property, and that’s as true of homeowners as it is of business owners.

    The entire point is that (at least some) Catholic hospitals do not wish to accept money to perform abortions. Yet some people wish to force them to do so, and that is wrong.

    The key is the right to contract. Business owners have the right to sell what they want (within the bounds of individual rights), and customers have the right to buy what they want. A transaction takes place when the two can agree on something. It takes two (or more) willing participants to engage in market transactions.

  3. How much less anger there would be, and how much more good will, if people recognized your point. People have the right to run their businesses the way they see fit. And others have the right not to patronize businesses that sell things they do not want.

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