Monday, March 28, 2005

Workplace morality

My friend Shari was asking the other night whether morally-motivated vegetarians should have a moral problem with working somewhere where a requirement of the job was to serve meat. My answer: probably. For someone like me, anyway, the reason I'm a vegetarian is that I think it's morally wrong to support the factory farm industry. Eating meat is only one of many ways to support that industry. So I guess that means I'd advise anyone to think hard before accepting a job that requires you to promote a practice that he or she finds immoral.


  1. I agree with you that it is probably ill-advised of a morally motivated vegetarian to work in a job which involves dealing with meat, unless he or she is an anti-factory farm vegetarian who has the power to determine where the meat is ordered from and can choose only free range meat.

    I think it is informative to compare the pharmacist thing with the vegetarian thing. I think most vegetarians, if they chose to work in such a position, and then refused to serve or order meat, would simply be laughed at and dismissed. And I doubt that they would get much sympathy from most people. And yet, the pharmacists are treated differently. Of course, there is a majority difference of opinion on the status of humans versus animals, but it's far from clear that the pharmacists are actually involved in practices which end human life, so the majority opinion is probably still against them, just as it is against the vegetarians.

    But the pharmacists persist in comparing themselves to doctors who refuse to perform abortions. These people garner wide sympathy because it's recognized that abortion is a morally ambiguous issue and in general I think we applaud people who practice their principles in their daily lives. I think it's fine for people not to want to perform abortions, but I'm not actually particularly sympathetic to OB/GYN doctors or doctors of other relevant specialties to take the attitude that they won't perform abortions, because there are plenty of other specialties that would never require this of them. Unlike most people, I do find it analogous to the vegetarian situation: if you're morally motivated vegetarian wanting to work in the restaurant industry, then you should choose a job that satisfies your criteria for not supporting the meat industry. If you're a doctor with a moral objection to abortion, you should choose a specialty that precludes abortion provision.

    Because there's no analogous specialty for pharmacists that I know of, pharmacists really have to consider their career choice carefully. Almost inevitably, even if they have objections to certain medicines, they will be asked to dispense these medicines. If they cannot perform these duties, then I don't think they're doing their jobs as pharmacists, and I think they should find other ones.


  2. In my experience, it's the pharmacist who gets laughed at and the vegetarian who garners deep respect for sticking to convictions. I think it depends on where you are.

    I agree that they're very similar ethical dilemmas. I don't agree that we should just tell people to get a new job, because they might not have been hired with an understanding that they'd have to violate their convictions. Someone becoming a pharmacist now, aware of this issue, is a different story, but I think an employer is wrong to expect someone who has been a pharmacist for forty years to be retrained for a completely different line of work.

  3. Jeremy, oral contraceptives have been legal since 1960, so somebody becoming a pharmacist 40 years ago would well have known that they could be asked to prescribe them.

    It's certainly possible that there are still practicing pharmacists who entered the profession before the legality of oral contraceptives, but it seems unlikely that there are many, and they've had 45 years to decide whether or not they can do their jobs. 45 years ago, almost any currently-practicing pharmacist probably would've been pretty young and could easily have taken retraining in another job.

    (Cynicism leads me to suggest that it's only in recent years, with the rise of the neocons and their bizarre morality, that any sympathy would be given to a pharmacist with a moral objection to contraceptives.)