So.. quite a few folks I know are all up in arms about Dan Savage’s latest little diatribe about the evils of corporate pharmacies. And while I may or may not be happy about the idea that a person who’s job it is to dispense drugs can choose on the basis of their faith which drugs they’ll distribute and which they won’t, I have an issue with the way many people, usually women, frame their outrage.
See.. getting drugs that are prescribed isn’t a right. A right, at least in the legal sense, is something guaranteed by law. In the United States, rights are those things set aside and protected by the Constitution and amendments thereto, some legislation, some landmark court cases, but in the end, by law – written law. A right isn’t my interpretation of the law. For instance, I can’t claim a legal right to privacy because I choose to believe that the 4th amendment protection against illegal search and seizure should be interpretted as “you can’t come in unless I invite you, and that includes snooping around my medical records”. However, I might be able to claim a right to privacy because the Supreme Court decided, based on a body of jurisprudence and an admittedly activist court, that our laws do create, if not a right, then at least an expectation of privacy. (For more on privacy rights, I’d recommend The Right to Privacy by Ellen Alderman & Caroline Kennedy.)
To get back to the point, though.. if getting drugs that are legally prescribed was a right, it wouldn’t depend on being able to pay for them. The whole question of a prescription drug plan for Medicare participants would be moot. People living in poverty wouldn’t have to decide whether to take the drug they were just prescribed or sell it on the street to get money to feed their family. See, a right is something that *everyone* gets, not just those who can afford it.
And yes, I realize that the system of rights in our world, even in these supposedly progressive United States, is incredibly imperfect. But it’s still not legal to deny someone the protection of the laws – their rights, in other words – because they can’t afford to buy it. It is, however, legal to deny someone a potentially life-saving drug because they don’t have the money to pay for it. See the difference..?