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From: ellie ( -
Subject: need advice about vegan right-livelihood question (a little long)
Date: June 30, 2009 at 7:00 am PST

this may not be the proper place to post this - Joanne, if this belongs on the Issues board, just let me know. But I really am in a quandary and would welcome others' thoughts.
a short bit of background: I left theater and went into psychology years ago, believing that I was doing the right thing trying to help people in need. I went from vegetarian to vegan at the same time - about 25 years ago. I was trained in a graduate program that had a primary-prevention, social justice model of mental health, and we were all taught that we were being trained for public-sector work with the underserved, not private practice with the whining well. Well and good so far.
fast forward a couple decades. I worked for a time in state mental hospitals, community mental health centers, and now work in a state facility for aggressive dementia patients who can't be managed in a regular nursing home; we also have a few units for severely/profoundly developmentally disabled people with complicated medical needs who can't live in group homes for that reason. Well and good so far, again. I love my job, the residents, the people I work with. I don't make a ton of money, but I have what I need, and it's steady and low stress. I'm not tussling with insurance companies or dodging malpractice suits - or dodging bullets in rough neighborhoods as I did in school. I do animal rescue and at present have about two dozen dogs and cats living with me, many of whom are elderly pets who are here for their "retirement". My job funds my animal work.

Now comes the nasty part. I have just realized that, all these years, working with the mentally ill and now working in my present job, I'm basically hand in glove with Big Pharma. All those mentally ill folks are on meds and I am in the position of having to tell them to take their meds. These folks here in my facility are frail, mostly elderly. There is right now a HUGE push to get staff to take the flu shot. If I get the flu, I will feel lousy for a few days. If these residents get the flu, some will die. Others will recover, but go into what might be their final decline. My boss has told me, with some justice, that she respects my vegan ethics, but it is not all about me, I have a duty to protect our residents and not risk infecting them with flu. She can't order me to take the shot, but she's appealing to my ethics to either take it, and compromise my values, or leave the facility. She does not want me to quit, but she says - and I have to admit, she has a point - that if you don't support Pharma, maybe it does not make sense to be in health care; if you take the king's shilling you do the king's business. Now, I don't use medication for myself. If I won't eat eggs and dairy because it's morally equivalent to veal, then taking meds is morally equivalent to bludgeoning beagle puppies. I won't take tylenol for a headache, i'll tough out the headache. I decided not to seek a refill of my asthma inhaler, because a baby can die of an asthma attack, but in a healthy middleaged adult, it's unlikely. If I am working in any sort of cooperation with the health/pharma industry to fund animal rescue, how is that different from working for a weapons manufacturer to fund peace work? Does it matter that my paycheck comes from the state and not the Pharma co., if I am basically complicit in supporting med use?

But do I endanger these helpless old people? that's wrong too. It seems like the only moral option is to give up my field. All of psychology is hand-in-glove with medicine and pharmacy; all the health fields are. I'm fifty, with really no other job skills, and not likely to get hired all that quickly anywhere, and changing fields at this point would be pretty well impossible. I'm still paying off my grad school loans. I think, what I'd have to do, is let go of my house and go live in the woods on whatever odd jobs I can come up with. I have no family, so I don't intend living long enough to be a problem to others. I don't know what would happen to my animals. I wonder if I could find homes for them. Assuming I do, I'd be out of rescue, but at least I would not be supporting anything harmful.

I don't want to leave this job. It's a place of friendship and community and support, and purpose, as well as a paycheck. It will grieve me to go. It will grieve me far more to give up my pets. And I have no other employment options that would pay more than bare subsistence, even without the house, so this is it, no turning back, no second chance. But that may indeed be what ethical livelihood demands right now.

What would you all do? Help me think this through, pretty please. I'm so overwhelmed right now it's hard to put the pieces together.

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