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Your Religion, My Body–Happy Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day–an appropriate time to think about human reproduction.

So…let me suggest a science fiction scenario.

We’re 25 years into the future. In reaction to massive population growth, NoNo, a religion encouraging ritual sterilization, has become the majority religion  in the U.S.  Practitioners believe (sincerely and devoutly) that God wants humans to avoid reproduction. (This religion’s conception of Diety is noncommittal on sex–it’s just making babies She is discouraging.)

As this religious community has grown, it has come to control the majority of the nation’s hospitals; well over 60% of them have become part of a national network of medical facilities run by and faithful to NoNo principles.

Our protagonist is not a NoNo, but she lives in a small town with only one hospital, and it is part of the NoNo network. She suddenly becomes ill. She is taken to the hospital in her area, where she is diagnosed with a treatable condition that will require minor surgery–and she’s told that, according to the tenets of NoNo, she will also be sterilized during the procedure. She objects–she’s only twenty, has never had children and desperately wants to be a mother–but her objections are deemed irrelevant. She is deprived of her control over her own body and any chance of having biological children.

Far fetched? Not if you switch the text.

The California Medical Association is seeking to join the ACLU of Northern California in its lawsuit against a Catholic hospital system over one of its facilities’ refusal on religious grounds to allow a doctor to perform a tubal ligation after a planned Cesarean section….

The suit stems from a case at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, one of Dignity Health’s 29 hospitals across the state. Mercy Medical says its refusal to perform the procedure was based on the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives – followed by all of California’s 35 Catholic hospitals – prohibit birth control, abortion and, in most cases, sterilization.

The California Medical Association says hospitals should make decisions that are medically appropriate–and should not make medical decisions that are contrary to best practices for reasons of religious dogma, especially when the patient does not accept that dogma.

Civil libertarians–in this case, the ACLU–say individuals should not have to cede control over their bodies and beliefs in order to receive medical care.

Over the past quarter-century or so, Catholic hospitals have assumed control of a significant percentage of the nation’s hospitals. What the courts need to decide is whether the merger of these hospitals entitles the Church to dictate medical decisions that would at best be considered “non-standard” or at worse would constitute malpractice.

Because God.

Suddenly, my “science fiction” scenario doesn’t look so far-fetched. As I’ve said before–a government with the power to prohibit abortion (or birth control) is a government with the power to require it. As a friend used to put it, poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.

Unless the courts rule otherwise, hospitals with a monopoly on medical care can impose their own rules. Based upon their religious beliefs. No matter which way medical science’s winds blow.

Giving Voice to My Fears….

Andrew Sullivan has a lengthy new article in New York Magazine. It’s terrifying. And it’s hard to dismiss.

For Democrats looking at the polls and anticipating a “wave” election if Trump is the GOP nominee, Sullivan’s article should be required reading–a cautionary tale, and a frighteningly hard-headed analysis of how, yes, it could happen here.

A few paragraphs will give you the general tenor of the article, but I really, really urge you to click through and read the whole thing.

Sullivan’s thesis is that America is ripe for tyranny.

In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when [Trump] is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself…..

He considers, at some length, the function of so-called “elites” in a constitutional democracy, the pluses and minuses of “direct democracy,” and the varying diagnoses of contemporary ills.

The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics….

Sullivan’s description of the role played by the media in the age of the Internet is particularly perceptive.

What the 21st century added to this picture, it’s now blindingly obvious, was media democracy — in a truly revolutionary form. If late-stage political democracy has taken two centuries to ripen, the media equivalent took around two decades, swiftly erasing almost any elite moderation or control of our democratic discourse. The process had its origins in partisan talk radio at the end of the past century. The rise of the internet — an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood — further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry — the cost of print and paper and distribution — crumbled….

The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before.

And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

Yes, occasional rational points still fly back and forth, but there are dramatically fewer elite arbiters to establish which of those points is actually true or valid or relevant. We have lost authoritative sources for even a common set of facts. And without such common empirical ground, the emotional component of politics becomes inflamed and reason retreats even further. The more emotive the candidate, the more supporters he or she will get.

Anyone who cares about America, and especially anyone who dismisses the very real threat posed by a Trump candidacy–the very real possibility that he could win– needs to read the entire essay.

Maybe We SHOULD Run Government Like These Businesses…

Political Animal had an interesting item a few days ago, pointing out that American businesses are increasingly uncomfortable with the supposedly “business-friendly” strategies being pursued by the GOP.

It isn’t just business’ pushback against retrograde anti-LGBT measures, either; recently, 51 New York millionaires asked Governor Cuomo to raise their taxes, and there has been a mass exodus of large corporations from ALEC–mainly as a response to that organization’s denial of the reality of climate change.

Most recently, several corporations have expressed concern about participation in this year’s GOP convention–at least, if Trump looks likely to be the nominee.

The discomfort of savvy businesses with the increasingly radical positions espoused by Republican officeholders has led President Obama to pursue an interesting strategy:

When President Obama initiated his “pen and phone” strategy, a big part of the effort was aimed at convincing the private sector to do what Congress refused to tackle: raise the minimum wage, embrace paid family leave, hire veterans, ban the box, implement policies that mitigate climate change, expand access to broad band, etc. The President’s recent trip to South by Southwest was a call for engagement of the tech industry in addressing challenges like improving access to voting and countering ISIS recruitment strategies online. Interestingly enough, he’s had more success with these efforts than he has with Republican legislators.

If these trends continue, we may finally be seeing what some in the punditry have long been predicting– collapse of the never-comfortable alliance between the pro-market, pro- business, “country club” Republicans who are generally fiscally conservative and socially moderate (or even socially liberal), and the Religious Right extremists who have come to account for so large a portion of the GOP base.

The 2016 election may be the last for the GOP in its current iteration. We can only hope that–once the smoke clears–America ends up with a responsible, adult center-right party that can engage productively with the Democrats’ center-left philosophy, and once again give conscientious citizens a thoughtful and meaningful policy debate.

 

Confirming All Your Comments: Update on Anthem

Just a brief update for those who’ve asked: the doctors at Methodist have called Anthem several times, to appeal the denial of my move to rehab.

Anthem’s personnel have not deigned to respond. They have simply not returned any of the calls.

Think about that. I am a patient whose care is in dispute: Doctors and therapists who have actually treated me are advising a certain course of treatment. Functionaries with unknown credentials–none of whom has ever seen me–decline to accept their medical judgment.

And then they blithely ignore requests to even talk about their reasons. The calculus seems obvious: if we don’t call back, these people will eventually tire of their appeal effort and go away. We win!

The doctors, nurses and caseworker are apologetic, but this impasse isn’t their fault. They are frustrated and angry; my situation is just one of many they encounter on a daily basis. They are convinced–as I have become convinced–that Anthem and other insurers care nothing about the health of their policyholders. (A caseworker told me she met an Anthem claims adjuster who cheerfully admitted that denials are rewarded with bonuses.)

We talk a lot about transparency in government. It’s long past time to talk about transparency in health insurance.  Indiana’s Insurance regulators need to investigate these practices; to the extent we still have that quaint occupation called journalism, reporters need to investigate and report on them.

If my experience is remotely typical, they’ll find plenty of health providers and patients who are ready and eager to talk.