Thursday, April 22, 2004


For some odd reason I thought that Michigan is a state full of apple trees and sane farmers. Shows how much I know about American geography and politics. In actuality Michigan appears to be another base camp for the Great Religious War. Its Republican dominated House just passed a"bill to provide standards for personnel policies to protect the right of conscience of health care providers who conscientiously object to providing or participating in certain health care services under certain circumstances; to provide for protection from certain liability; and to provide for penalties and remedies." In translation to ordinary English, this means that the Michigan Catholic Conference has pushed a bill through which will allow Catholic health care workers to refuse to participate in abortions or to dispense morning-after pills. The bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but the Democratic governor might veto it.

However, as it's still not quite legal to pass bills explicitly phrazed to cover only certain reasons for conscientious objection, the bill is actually very vague and fuzzy in its coverage: any religious, moral or ethical reason is covered. This has made some suggest that the bill could be used to deny treatment of injuries or diseases that stem from a lifestyle the health care practitioner opposes. This could endanger the health care of not only pregnant women (the intended group) but also gays, lesbians, alcoholics, snake goddesses and so on. Though emergency health care cannot be denied, the proposed bill could have serious repercussions in rural areas with very few health care providers, especially as everybody knows everybody else's business in small villages.

The whole package of bills also proposes that people who hold such moral, religious or ethical qualms cannot be denied access to medical education on this basis, and that they cannot be sued for malpractise either. Perhaps they will also be released from the Hippocratic Oath* or its equivalents?

The crafters of the bill cleverly excluded the dispensing of contraceptives from its coverage. The intention is, of course, not to anger the vast majority of Michigans (some of whom must be sane and even apple farmers). It's the sort of stealth tactic that I despise: after all, the Catholic church doesn't like contraception, yet any pangs of bad conscience here are not supposed to be worthy of lawmaking. The real reason is naturally to add contraceptives later on when we have become lulled to the soft baby tendrils of Talibanization.

I'm seeing all sorts of interesting ways to use the same 'Conscientious Objector' concept in other fields: teachers who refuse to teach political or economic ideas they find ethically repulsive, stores which refuse to sell clothing to people they think would make their clothes look aesthetically unpleasing, journalists who refuse to report both sides of a story (though this is common enough already). Even bakers could refuse to sell croissants to obese people. What an interesting world we would create!

*The classical version (no longer in use) begins so very promisingly:

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:(Bolds mine)

but it deteriorates pretty quickly thereafter. The modern version is a bit less controversial.