Left Field by Patricia Nell Warren
“Morality” as a reason to deny healthcare may soon become law.
In recent months, we’ve heard the drumbeat of the so-called “war on women,” as shifting healthcare policy allows denial of reproductive-related services to women and girls on the basis of “religious and moral objections.” In February, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) started a more ominous drumbeat by introducing his Conscience Protection Amendment to the Obamacare legislation. Blunt’s sweepingly generalized and vaguely worded bill would allow denial of any healthcare coverage to anybody on any “moral” or “religious” grounds. And that will certainly include denial of services for any HIV/AIDS-related needs.
I view the Blunt amendment as a “war on humanity.” Nearly forty Senators, mostly Republicans, rushed to sign onto the Blunt Amendment as co-sponsors. Blunt, a Southern Baptist, made it a rider on a transportation bill, and Democrats managed to get it tabled. But like the Terminator, Blunt swore he would be back.
Advocates of “conscience” consistently cite “Biblical values.” I think the whole conscience movement is rooted in gross misinterpretation of the Bible. There are the famous New Testament passages where Jesus is said to have healed various people—for instance, the paralyzed man at the healing pool in Bethesda. The ancient writers who penned these passages had the humanity to portray Jesus as someone who would heal first, and preach later. “Go, and sin no more,” he is said to have warned. But today that is reversed, with the denial of healing put first by legislators and church leaders who insist they follow Jesus.
Indeed, according to one Bible-study source, Biblos.com, the proper interpretation of Jesus’s words equates sickness with sin. Biblos says, “Sin no more—by this expression it was implied that the infirmity of this man was caused by sin—perhaps by vice in his youth. His crime or dissipation had brought on him this long and distressing affliction. Jesus shows him that he knew the cause of his sickness, and takes occasion to warn him not to repeat it. No man who indulges in vice can tell what may be its consequences. It must always end in evil, and not unfrequently it results in loss of health, and in long and painful disease. This is always the case with intemperance and all gross pleasures. Sooner or later, sin will always result in misery.”
Congress started opening the door to religious leverage on health policy as far back as 1973, when they passed the Public Health Service Act. Known as the “Church Amendment,” this legislation decreed that acceptance of federal funding for healthcare programs would not obligate faith-based health providers to do abortions and sterilizations if those procedures violated any moral or religious convictions.
Incidents are already happening that reveal where anti-AIDS attitudes will go in this current atmosphere. Queerlandia’s blogger Jim Reeves reports this one: “Joao Simoe is suing Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Union County, New Jersey, Superior Court for denying him his HIV medications for five days, and refusing to allow his sister to visit.” Not only that, but a hospital doctor, Susan Borja, refused to treat Simoe—he was there for three days before he was allowed to contact his own doctor. Dr. Borja allegedly told Simoe’s doctor, “This is what he gets for going against God’s will.”
On other fronts, growing pharmacy refusals to provide women with contraception medications will broaden to include denial of HIV medications to gay and bi men, or even HIV-positive non-gays, on the same “moral” grounds.
By extension, what these church people interpret as “sexual sin” can result in not only HIV infection, but also to a range of sexually transmitted disease. Treatment for syphilis or any STD can be denied on “religious or moral” objections to how a person has lived his or her life, including sex workers. With further extension of the Blunt Amendment, healthcare can be denied to someone suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, obesity, diabetes II, because these illnesses can be viewed as resulting from a “vice” or “gross pleasure.” Further still, coverage for surgery that involves blood transfusion can be denied if your employer is a Jehovah’s Witness.
Traditionally, Catholics have been the worst offenders, with their insistence on forcing their abortion and birth-control dogma on non-Catholics. But recently Protestants have caught up. Indeed, with the emergence of Protestantism’s New Apostolic Reformation movement, and its view that prayer is the best and only avenue to healing, it’s possible that employers or healthcare institutions controlled by extremist Protestants can now have the legal right to avoid offering any health insurance coverage at all, on the grounds that healthcare is not a “moral” substitute for faith healing.
In short, these church-controlled employers and medical institutions would be granting their services only to people whose beliefs and lifestyle meet with their approval. Imagine the abuses that will be possible—for example, a conservative Catholic or Protestant employer denying coverage to an employee that they learned was atheist or Jewish or Muslim or pagan.
Ironically, a recent Thomson-Reuters survey shows that church-owned health systems supposedly offer the best care. Says Healthcare Finance News: “Catholic health systems also were found to provide significantly higher quality care than secular not-for-profit health systems, while for-profit systems had the lowest performance. Thomson-Reuters surveyed 255 U.S. health systems….Researchers said they looked at eight metrics that address clinical quality and efficiency: mortality, medical complications, patient safety, average length of stay, 30-day mortality rate, 30-day readmission rate, adherence to clinical standards of care.” I find these survey results ironical since denial of care to certain classes of people, and their possible mortality rate, was not factored into the survey as a negative.
A similar survey was reported by PubMed, who says, “Hospitals operated by the Catholic Church, and hospitals that owned their own hospice program, were significantly more likely to have a palliative care program than non-Catholic Church-operated hospitals and hospitals without hospice programs respectively.” Real-life translation: the main reason that Catholic hospitals and hospices offer more palliative care is belief: life must be prolonged at all costs.
I am sickened by this emerging national policy of denying healthcare to certain classes of people. As part of it, denials of HIV care will now have protection of law, and masquerade as “morality.”
Blunt’s amendment may or may not pass eventually, but this battle will go on. Healthcare is at the core of survival for the individual in any culture or civilization. Yet our spineless government is allowing these faith-based health systems and employers to get more and more leverage over the lives of Americans who don’t belong to their churches. Without the legal shield of “conscience” in front of them, these people might be viewed as murderers by the law.
What Congress should do is require faith-based health providers to do without federal money if they want to cherry-pick whom they’re going to treat. Since the faith folks pay no taxes, they are damn well able to float their health empires on monies that they might have paid to the IRS. Meanwhile, however, we have their emerging “war on humanity,” meaning that they intend to “war on” any Americans who they believe are not “deserving.”
Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.