March 23, 2005

Culture of Life

From tonight's Larry King Live:

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: ... But I think the whole issue of incapacitated persons will be the subject of great scrutiny and debate. There are a number of people out there who are not in a persistent vegetative state, there's an open question as to whether or not they are, and we've got to make sure that handicapped, disabled persons are not deprived their ability to go on living by someone else who's quarterbacking their care or their lack of care.

And I would add to that, that this is a basic human rights abuse in the making. We're watching it unfold on CNN, on all the networks.

...And this is a disability rights case. Congress, I think, will look at it much further, particularly in a more total way....

It's marvelous to hear the GOP talking so much about rights for the disabled and the vulnerable. Now that they've made the conversion & had their 'come to Jesus' moment on the issue, here are a few things they might want to make sure never happen again.

From a dKos diary, we get the story of a military suit to get out of paying for the abortion of an anencephalic fetus. The following is from an article quoted in the piece:

...Britell learned in 1994 that the fetus she was carrying was anencephalic. Like Jane Doe, she and her husband, Andrew, then a captain called to active duty with the Massachusetts Air National Guard, agonized over their choices.

"Your world just sort of stops. Suddenly, you aren't living your life. I was terrified of just going to the grocery store. You might see other women, especially pregnant women. Someone might ask, 'When's your baby due?' " Britell said.

Britell thought she would answer: "The day before its funeral."

What many people don't realize, she said, "is that an anencephalic pregnancy could be over a year in gestation. One of the nasty things not many know is that because the brain is not developed, the fetus doesn't send a signal that it is ready to come out." ...

The culture of lifers have no problem letting a woman be forced to carry a brain dead fetus for over a year, at serious risk to her health, her future fertility, and the possibility that the parents could try again for a healthy child. Something similar happened to a friend's mother before abortion was legal, and doctors absolutely refused to induce labor until the official due date, even though the heart had stopped beating. I can't imagine the kind of anguish that would cause, but it doesn't seem very life affirming.

Even today, every time certain abortion procedures appear to be up in the air in terms of legality, things like this happen. Click over to read about a woman whose baby died at 19 weeks and had to walk around for days hoping to find a doctor willing to remove the barely-formed body. Ampersand, in a post that referenced the story, noted that women in countries where abortion is even more restrictive have been blinded due to pregnancy complications, complications that were foreseen by their doctors, or women whose own fragile health was utterly disregarded.

Or say you have kids, but one day you find out that your boyfriend is a drug dealer. And the way you find out is that you get arrested for driving him somewhere or answering a phone call, and because you don't know enough to rat anyone out, you get locked up away from your kids without any meaningful rehabilitation or vocational education. For minority populations, the drug war also means that fathers who are non-violent or first time offenders are far more likely to get jail than the rehabilitation or potential job prospects they may need to escape a destructive environment. How does that fit in with trying to increase the number of parents caring for any given child towards the magic number of two?

We live in a country in which 1 in 32 Americans is in the correctional system, this affects quite a few families. About a quarter of the people locked up in America, around 500,000 people, are in there for drug issues. A great many of those are in there for nonviolent offenses, and I expect a lot of them have families. Are we doing much to nourish and enrich the lives of these people and their dependents so they can look forward to a better future?

What about the vulnerable among the adult population, those with serious health problems? Last year, Talk Left pointed out the story of a quadriplegic allowed to die in jail. Johnathan Magbie, who'd been paralyzed when he was young, was sentenced to 10 days in a Washington DC jail because he was riding in a car whose owner had a gun and some coke, and admitted that he possessed and used marijuana to alleviate his pain. The jail had no facilities to properly care for him, and he died halfway through his sentence.

As a first-time offender, Magbie would normally have been sentenced to probation. But because there had been a gun in the car, which a man who can only move his head couldn't possibly have owned and probably didn't know about, he was sent to jail. The judge refused to order him sent to a hospital environment, and the hospital that contracted with the jail refused to take him, though Magbie required assistance to breathe and 20 hours of nursing care daily.

Then there's the case of Peter McWilliams. An outspoken anti-drug war advocate, and author of the sensible classic, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, he was one of the fatally ill people who took advantage of California's medical marijuana law. It was the only treatment that allowed him to keep his other medication down. But eager to prove their culture of life credentials by being even more irrational about drugs, and their tough on crime stance, the Clinton DoJ hounded him literally to death.

Here's a little more to the story. McWilliams was targeted for federal prosecution as a known advocate and user of medical marijuana, having contracted both AIDS and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. A lengthy legal battle bankrupted him, and ultimately, the judge refused to allow him to present any evidence in court regarding his illness or the California statute that made his activities legal in that state. He was found dead in his home while out on bail, having choked on his own vomit.

But he wasn't the last or the only critically ill person to be so unkindly treated.

How about making sure some of that never happens again? Yeah, right. Tom Delay, our newest champion for the disabled, sees no connection between federal funding for medical care and the quality of life of people who need a lot of it. But then, he serves a president who signed a law that made ability to pay a consideration in a hospital's decision to continue life support even for conscious and very much aware patients. His party regularly sponsors legislation cutting various types of aid for at-risk families, whom they then turn around and criticize for their circumstances.

The only thing these culture of life politicians respect is the liveliness of their poll numbers. They play on the concerns of those who see something very wrong in the way our society treats people, and simply don't know what to do about it. They exploit people's desire to be seen doing something, without ever discussing the merits or ramifications of any particular 'pro-life' position, and they never, ever, mention the personal impacts of their rigid stances on social assistance or 'responsibility' issues. And they never seem to have to answer how their claim to respect every life squares with their desire to rain hellfire and damnation on thousands of civilians overseas, or their blind refusal to pass laws that would prevent people being poisoned by the toxins they allow to be dumped into our food, air and water.

Free from discussing results, free from having to connect the dots between their positions on different issues, they turn 'life' into an abstract game of biblical trivia and amateur philosophy. Which is just atrocious. Respecting life should mean in part that you understand that each individual gets one shot at it, that it's happening right now, and that magnifying misery disrespects that gift.

I think the founding fathers respected life. And the reason I think that is because they put the right to the "liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" right in there after life. It was a fundamentally anti-Puritan statement, a declaration that an individual's desire for joy and right to their own wishes in managing their personal matters was valuable in itself. There can be no more fundamental breach of that than tampering with someone's medical decisions, because as everyone who's dealt with serious health situations knows, there's no aspect of your life it won't touch.

Would the founders even recognize the snarling, snapping, hateful, aggressively censorious, nosy, and self-righteous advocates of increasing the total burden of human suffering as products of the freedom they wrested loose for us?

Posted by natasha at March 23, 2005 08:58 PM | Human Rights | Technorati links |