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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Houston Rescue Workers Take No Conscience Pause

NPR's All Things Considered interviewed Houston Fire Department Rescue Chief Richard Cole yesterday about the rescue efforts he was managing following Hurricane Ike. Melissa Block asked him whether he and his rescue crews had any qualms about rescuing folks who find themselves in trouble because of the arguably bad choice they made by not evacuating the city. Chief Cole said something quite instructive about duty and public service:

Jacki Lyden, NPR: What is it like to rescue people who were supposed to leave and then not leave?

Richard Cole, HFD: Well, the forecasters had predicted this storm to go someplace else, and obviously for a city as large as we are, it takes a lot of time to move this many people. I think that the people in our evacuation zones that were set up... we had a large amount of those people that were able to get out. We did have part of the population that decided to stay, but it's not our job as rescuers to figure out why they stayed or whatnot. It's our job to try to make sure that we get them out.

Lyden: But if someone stays and you have to rescue them, does that create any sort of fatigue or resentment on the part of the rescue worker?

Cole: No. Our job is to come in and do what's needed. People have different reasons for why they stayed: no place to go, no family, no transportation; this is the first hurricane that they've been in, they see other people ride it out, "well, I think I can do it too;" they might not be familiar with the topography of their neighborhoods and know that it floods. So there's a lot of reasons. We don't hold resentment. It's our job to come in and save people.

["Rescue Efforts Under Way in Houston," All Things Considered, 2008.09.13]

Maybe pharmacists and other medical workers agitating for "conscience clause" exceptions should take their cues from the brave men and women of the Houston Fire Department: following your conscience means doing the job you've agreed to do. And for the brave men and women of the Houston Fire Department, doing the job means helping people, not judging them.


  1. Perhaps the medical workers and pharmacists are following their conscience and do believe they are saving lives.

    Should they not have the right not to sell a medicene they do not believe in?

    Does not free enterprise say that if the customer does not agree with your business practices then your business will go elsewhere. Perhaps we should let the customer decide what the pharmacist can and will sell rather than the government.

    Just a thought.

    Joseph G Thompson

  2. This is the biggest stretch ever. Even for you.

    These folks are public servants and work for and on behalf of all the people.

    Pharmacists are private businesspeople who should not be forced to sell certain medicines...just like Planned Parenthood should not be forced to show sonograms, etc. Both are private enterprises.

    If you want to argue this issue, try it in conjunction with another topic. This is just ridiculous.

  3. Oh, come on, mbk: I've made bigger stretches... ;-)

    Actually, since we don't have socialized medicine, I suggest the analogy is more apt than you think. A woman has a prescription for birth control. She goes to the local pharmacist, the only person in town who can fill that prescription. Is it the pharmacist's job to ask whether the woman made irresponsible choices to get into her situation any more than it is the firefighter's job to ask whether the hurricane victim made an irresponsible choice in not evacuating?

    Now I take it you accept Chief Cole's moral position that making moral judgments on folks in need is not poart of his job. Suppose we had no public fire departments. I get a few friends, a Hummer, and a helicopter and form a private rescue company. I drive through the hurricane zone, see a family sitting on their roof, surrounded by rising flood waters. I require they show me proof they had good reason not to evacuate before I come help. They just keep asking for help; I drive away, leaving them on the roof. Is my status as a private contractor all the moral shield I need for my inaction?

  4. Agreed...it is not a moral shield, but it is a shield. They are under no obligation.

  5. I tend to agree here with Corey that if the government extends a unique right to a small group of people that the group of people with that right should all be required to follow the same set of rules. Pharmacists have been given the unique right to sell a restricted product. Accordingly, I think they should be required to sell all such products without any restriction.

    The pharmacists are essentially acting as a public servant when they sell restricted products and as such should be required to separate their religious beliefs from their duties as a dispenser of a controlled substance.

    This wouldn't even be a discussion if the pharmacist was not selling antibiotics to women with children bred out of wedlock because of some other religious belief.

    The state is an actor here and any religious beliefs should be left at the curbside.


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