The Difficulties of Staying Informed

It is very difficult sometimes to gain access to relevant primary documents. Take, for example, the case of Genarlow Wilson. He is a 21-year old serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated child molestation. On June 11, 2007 a judge released him from that sentence. Here is what I know and what I would like to know:

Several media organizations reported the following quotations by Judge Thomas Wilson, who issued the ruling:

  • “The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this Court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice.”
  • “If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish … justice being served in a fair and equal manner.”

These are strong claims by the judge (who is not related to the defendant). I would like to read the rest of the ruling, however, but it can’t be found online. This is the first challenge in being fully informed about the case.

There is one other challenge: a video was relevant in this case. It features graphic detail about the crime committed at a new year’s eve party in 2003. Apparently it shows Wilson having sex with one woman and oral sex with another. The conviction was for the oral sex — a total of ten years solely for fellatio.

This seems excessive, right? I’m sure many people are thinking that no one deserves to serve 10 years in prison without possibility of parole merely for having oral sex with a minor. But that can’t be the whole story. I need to (1) read the judge’s ruling, and (2) see the video in order to have an opinion about the justice of this sentence.

Unfortunately, these materials are not available online. So what to do? Media organizations are not willing to post these materials, so it is impossible to use news organizations as a way to be fully informed in this case. One might think that is the responsibility of news organizations, but they don’t see it that way. They think their job is to filter the raw news for those of us not smart enough to go to the original sources.

Where does this leave me? Without an opinion, actually. I can’t decide whether Genarlow Wilson should be serving 10 years, or whether Judge Wilson’s order was appropriate. The vast majority of news readers will jump on the bandwagon and agree with dismissal of the sentence, but their positions will likely be ill-informed: hardly anyone will have read Judge Wilson’s ruling and seen the relevant video.

This single case is not an anomaly. It is common for news organizations to fail their readers/viewers in these sorts of cases. Rarely do we see primary sources linked to stories, making it very difficult to stay informed.

Of course, most people will not want to see the video or read the ruling, but they will still express an opinion about the case. I dismiss them, however. You can’t have an opinion on something without seeing all of the relevant evidence. Unfortunately, this makes up the vast majority of news readers/viewers. They are too quick to form opinions based on a 300-word news story alone.

A basic principle needs to be applied here: Shut up unless you know what you’re talking about. To the press, I would say: you’re either being lazy by failing to post additional resources, or you’re assuming your readers/viewers are lazy. Both positions are unsupportable.


Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized

Should Pharmacists Be Allowed to Refuse to Sell Some Drugs?

Of course they should. Here’s my argument:

1. Merchants should have the right to sell what they want to sell (in other words, the government should not be telling merchants what they should and should not sell).

2. Pharmacists are merchants.

Given the above, it follows that merchants should be allowed to choose what they do and do not sell.

The controversy has arises over whether pharmacists should be allowed to refuse to sell birth control. Some pharmacists do in fact do refuse to sell some forms of BC. Here are some stories:

A paper for or against my argument would address the following issue question: Should pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions?

In keeping with the argument above, I am thinking of it along these lines: Imagine a Quickie Mart owner that refuses to sell condoms. Is he within his rights to do this, or is he violating some ethical rule by doing so? It seems to me that while men and women might have a “right” to purchase condoms, they don’t have a right to purchase condoms from that specific Quickie Mart owner. If he doesn’t want to carry them, then it seems like the same sort of thing as refusing to sell beer, or soft drinks.

But, you might ask, is the store owner the same as a pharmacist? After all, the pharmacist is a professional and not merely a store owner. Shouldn’t his/her responsibilities extend further?

I would say they do not. My argument for this — in addition to the above — is that there are tens of thousands of places in this country where one can get a prescription filled. Therefore there seems to be room for individual pharmacists to follow their conscience. It’s just like the Quickie Mart owner: if you can’t find what you want at his/her store, then drive another block and you’ll probably find another.

I suppose there are a few towns still around with only one pharmacy, and in those cases there might be some problems. But consider the statement of the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), the group that represents about 53,000 pharmacists in the U.S. Here’s their “conscience clause”:

  • “APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist’s right to exercise conscientious refusal and supports the establishment of systems to ensure [the] patient’s access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist’s right of conscientious refusal.”

This seems to be the right approach: allow patients to get serviced without compromising the pharmacist’s conscience. If there could be a perfect solution to the problem, this would be it. No one would be harmed by such a solution. In other words, it should be possible to design a solution that would get the patient his/her drugs without involving the pharmacist with a conscience problem.

In some of the larger chains, perhaps the issue will be resolved simply by asking another available pharmacist to handle the prescription. In some of the smaller places, it might be a bit more of a hassle. In the end, however, what is the potential harm to the patient? There could be a delay, but that seems a small price to pay for not forcing a professional to violate his or her conscience.

Here’s the APhA’s full statement on issues of conscience:

Filed under: Bioethics, ,