"As I went over the water, The water went over me."
— Old Nursery Rhyme
The recent decision in Washington State to require all pharmacists to fill all prescriptions regardless of conscience is a troubling one. Yes, in part it has to do with the state making it compulsory to act against one's conscience or suffer loss. There is another part, which seems to be unmentioned, which troubles me, and that is the changing legalizations of certain drugs mean that nobody is safe from the changing whims of the law. In the past, the distribution of abortifacients were illegal, and in fact against they ran afoul of the original Hippocratic Oath:
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
Now it is legal to distribute them, and the pharmacist or doctor who holds to the old standard is forced to either choose between his conscience and his livelihood — a decision a just society has no right to demand of him. Now we see that the physician who holds to the requirements of conscience are forced to do things which in the past nobody would dream of asking him to do.
The problem is: Who decides when the moral requirements may change and who may decide what is good and what is evil?
If morality is objective, is outside of us, then we must realize that we have no right to decree changes to morality and that a society is good or evil depending on whether it follows objective morality or not. With this view in mind, we recognize that morality judges society, not the other way around.
However, if morality is merely opinion, then there is nothing to bind people, and the whims of each generation dictate how we may treat others. Once, African Americans counted for 3/5 of a person and could be owned as property. There was a time when this was seen as morally acceptable by a portion of the American population who were not African Americans. If popular opinion dictates morality, how can we say that a later generation would be wrong to go back to that mentality?
If society and culture determine what is moral, then the person who rejects the popular morality is always in the wrong. Some might agree with this, but do you realize that under such a view, Bull Connor was right and Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong? Such a view is the exact opposite of what we know and believe today — recognizing that treating people as inferior because of their race is contrary to their rights to be treated as a human being.
If it is government leaders who can decide what is lawful and what is not, rejecting previous views of morality then we must recognize that we have nothing to say to the dictators of the world except that we personally find the behavior repugnant… to which the dictator can say, "Who are you to force your views on me?"
If morals are elastic and changeable then there is nothing right in being tolerant and nothing wrong in being intolerant.
Consider it well. If the moral beliefs of the past can be superseded by the morals of the present, then how can we protest if the morals of the future supersede the morals of the present? The person who believes in racial justice today may find himself in a position where he or she is told to discriminate against certain races in the future, and an appeal to what was once held can be rejected on the grounds that "things have changed."
It is only when one considers the source of what makes a thing right or wrong that we can be protected from the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the state. Those government leaders and advocates for change need to address the question "On what basis" a value is to be seen as good or evil. Laws should only be made which recognize this.
Otherwise none of us are safe from the whims of society, or the demands of a tyrant.