Moralistic Hypocrisy

“I’m sorry, sir, but I notice the prescription you’ve handed me is for Viagra, and before I can fill it you’ll have to provide proof that the woman sitting next to you is your wife and not some cheap floozie. Otherwise, I’ll have to refer you to another pharmacist who has no problem contributing to the moral collapse of our country.”

Perhaps, in the very near future, there will have to be designated lines at the pharmacy counter and drive-up window:

Line 1: Prescriptions To Cure Physical Ailments.

Line 2: Prescriptions To Ease Mental Anguish.

Line 3: Prescriptions To Promote A Morally Degenerate Lifestyle.

It isn’t often we see large corporations claim the moral high ground. With all the stories of corporate plundering and executives doing the perp walk in handcuffs, it is indeed rare to hear of a company that allows moral interpretation of the stuff it peddles.

But CVS, where you can buy your drugs, cereal, cat food, cigarettes, candy bars, shampoo, greeting cards, coffee, pens, pencils, paperbacks, beard trimmers, eyeliner and beach toys, has stepped up to say there’s more to pharmaceutical relief than a mere piece of paper.

A bolt of corporate conscience struck a customer at a CVS in Coventry, R.I., several days ago.

It was about 10 p.m. at the drive-up window. The woman handed over a prescription for the morning-after contraceptive pill.

Not so fast.

The pharmacist on the night shift invoked the previously unstated company policy that pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions due to religious or moral beliefs, provided the prescription can be filled by another pharmacist or at another CVS store.

The customer in question chose to come back to the same store early the next morning to fill the prescription.

She might have had an anxious, sleepless night because the pill’s effectiveness is time-sensitive. She might have felt humiliated by having what she thought would be a simple and discreet purchase turned into a challenge to her lifestyle.

But that’s apparently the additional price one might have to pay when doing business with CVS. The assumption that a pharmacist is obligated to honor a valid prescription could lead to some embarrassment.

It’s probably best the woman was at the drive-up window late at night. Being rejected on moral grounds during the day with a long line waiting could add to the humiliation:

“Morally permissive pharmacist wanted on aisle 3.”

A corporate spokesperson backed up the actions of the pharmacist, saying that as an employer, CVS must accommodate a sincerely held religious conviction that may prevent a pharmacist from dispensing a certain prescription.

Of course, we are left to wonder which drugs are subject to moral judgment and which drugs are not. What meets one pharmacist’s personal standards might be nothing less than the devil’s handiwork to another. Will customers be left to wonder if the person across the counter will impose a highly or only moderately moral standard on them?

And could a purchase of cigarettes be denied by a cashier invoking membership in the American Lung Association?

It would be a consumer-friendly thing for CVS to post signs in its stores, maybe even take out some newspaper and TV ads, pointing out that its stores are now morally sensitive areas where some purchases are subject to the personal codes of employees.

It would also be interesting to find out if the possible restrictions that apply to a woman at the drive-up window late at night apply equally up and down the corporate ladder.

Could CVS officials, for example, be taking a fresh look at their past connections with members of the state legislature?

Could the corporate moral compass be pointing straight up?

Is it possible that the sleepless nights that befall a woman turned away from a drive-up window also befall those at CVS who want desperately to avoid the unpleasant possibilities of the company’s own questionable liaisons?

There would be a certain moral symmetry to that, wouldn’t there?

(Bob Kerr, a columnist for The Providence Journal, can be reached by e-mail at bkerr(at)