Losing Her Religion
A woman who worked at a hospital in Cincinnati was fired because she refused a mandated flu vaccine on the grounds that it contains egg protein. She’s a vegan. Her legal challenge hinges on the premise that her veganism is the moral equivalent of a religion. The hospital begs to differ, arguing that veganism isn’t a religion and that, as a result, the woman’s civil rights were not being violated by the mandate. The woman has sued the hospital. The case goes to trial in July. I hope she wins. But not on the grounds she argues.
The woman is a customer service representative. She’s thus in no position to administer drugs that have been animal tested or contain animal products. Nevertheless, she is working for an organization that systematically administers drugs that have relied in one way or another on animal exploitation. In this respect she is like the bookkeeper for a slave owner while not owning slaves herself. In essence, she’s already implicated in what she wants to avoid by virtue of her employment. She is, in other words, already violating her religious belief, flu shot or no.
There is, though, the more compelling issue of bodily integrity. We have at least some rights when it comes to what we can chose to put into our own body. This—more than religion— strikes me as the crux of the case for this woman. She’s being asked to consume a product that, on the basis of human decency, she deems the essence of evil. Would the hospital require a recovering alcoholic to take a drug that had alcohol in it? I realize that alcoholism is a disease and carnism is not (yet). Still, the matter for me hinges on the basic right to choose what to put in (or keep in) one’s own body. At the least, I find it problematic that the hospital could do a drug test on this woman and fire her if they found traces of marijuana—an innocuous plant in my humble opinion—in her system while her failure to inject egg protein and human virus into her body is equally punishable. I’m no legal scholar, and never will be one. But something here is whacked up.
My takeaway point is that I hope this woman doesn’t try to get veganism classified as a religion, if for no other reason than we’ll be further doomed to cultish associations we already have to work hard enough to avoid. There seem to be other ways to make this case. She should lose her religion but maintain her veganism as a stance that transcends religion and qualifies as basic human decency. Whether or not there is a legal basis for doing so, alas, I don’t know. But there ought to be a law.
UPDATE (January 29): Turns out the FDA just approved a new egg free flu vaccine. (Thanks to Karla Cook for the tip.)