Questionable Motives

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

September 23, 2011

Why is there still confusion between what’s personal and professional?

Over at Wintery Knight, I came across a post about doctors being forced to act “like atheists.” Heaven forbid, of course. Naturally, I wanted to find out what this terrible imposition might be so I read the post about a doctor dispensing theological advice and commented. As night follows day, so too does moderation and deletion of my thoughtful comments occur by another cowardly intellectually bankrupt religious blogger (not that I’m biased). What are these delicate people – and I’ve come across many – so afraid of with a comment critical of their conclusions? That the sky will fall? It can’t be because of loss of audience: the hit counters reveal that the controversial comments I make increases the number of visitors, increases the number of pages viewed on the site, lengthens the time people spend there, and increases the number of comments made about the topic. I take the time and make the effort to comment because I think bloggers willing to espouse an opinion that interests me should be treated to mine… especially if it is contrary because the reasons will be (or, at least, should be) interesting to consider even if they are found inadequate or insufficient to change anyone’s mind. It seems a fair exchange in the public square. But editing and deleting my comments undermines any possibility for an exchange to occur, turning the site into a love-in of groupthink rather than promoting honest discussion about controversial opinions.

But honesty is always the preferred casualty when confronting faith-based beliefs with criticism because maintaining faith-based beliefs is contrary to maintaining intellectual honesty that has to account for the criticism. The honest answer to some faith-based belief is, “I don’t know,” rather than an assumption of the truth of the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But this kind of honesty directly undermines the the legitimacy of any claim to some divine authority if it can be legitimately questioned and that’s why criticism and doubt are seen by so many religious bloggers to be ‘attacks against’ rather than ‘inquiries into’ faith-based claims. Because of this, faith of the religious kind naturally evolves into a garrison mentality because it is built on something that is need of constant shoring up of whatever cherry-picked defenses can be used. Consistency and accountability are dislocated from faith and this is necessary for the faith to survive. That is why at its root religious faith-based beliefs have no capability to be engage in honest dialogue by its supporters when it comes to inquiring into the faith-based beliefs of individuals; the beliefs can only be maintained by a willingness to first be intellectually dishonest, to reject the honest “I don’t know” and substitute the dishonest faith claim as if it were likely true, likely probably, likely correct, likely accurate… without any substantive reasons based in reality to tip the balance to that likely possibility. This is the intellectual dishonesty in practice.

To change gears for a moment (but I shall return to the entrenched loyalty to intellectual dishonesty by faith-based believers), let me now turn to issues of personal expressions carried out in professional settings and why this is a confused problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Like I explained in my comment to Wintery Knight, let’s take a moment to consider police officer Bob empowered to enforce the law. Do any of us really want Officer Bob to use the professional powers of his office to promote his personal beliefs? I don’t think so; I think it is entirely reasonable to expect Officer Bob to act professionally while discharging his duties and obligations to enforce the law. While acting as that professional he will be subject to the code of conduct and ethical requirements demanded by that profession… and we should expect no less. But if Officer Bob decides to step beyond this line established by his professional obligations  and under which he is empowered to discharge his duties while acting in his professional capacities then he is open to professional censure. This is not unreasonable for Officer Bob any more than it is for a pharmacist or fire fighter or judge or soldier or doctor or teacher or any other profession who oversteps their professional boundaries into the private.

When a judge decides to use the court bench to favour personal beliefs (like the new appointee to Chief Justice of South Africa’s Supreme Court, who has a long and misogynistic history of doing just that) that are contrary to one’s professional obligations of impartiality (justice through the courts is supposed to be blind), then professional censure is only proper. When a teacher enters into a personal relationship with a student, then the professional boundary has been crossed and censure is only proper. When a doctor uses his professional standing to promote theological treatment (or non treatment for theological rather than medical reasons) at that medical office or hospital or clinic, then censure is only proper. It is the crossing of the line between what is professional while acting in that professional capacity and what is personal in a personal setting that should be acted upon. That is where the infraction has taken place and is need of professional censure.

I have found that many people become rather confused about what is being censured and seem to have great difficulty understanding that the personal aspect itself is not (necessarily) at issue. Quite often the personal aspect that has motivated the crossing of the line is religious, so the issue of non professional behaviour becomes distorted into a faux criticism of some personal religious behaviour… as if the stand alone behaviour under censure was about religion. This causes a lot of unnecessary confusion about what the problem actually is: crossing the professional/personal line and why that crossing requires professional censure when done in a professional setting; instead we have opinions like those expressed in Wintery Knight that mistakenly confuses the issue to be one of religious expression under attack by the secular state.That’s why I commented, to clarify this issue.

Now we return to the inherent intellectual dishonesty of supporting faith-based beliefs: because my comment was deleted there as well as at sites of other religious defenders who seem hell-bent on pretending their faith is under attack from the godless whenever religious behaviour is censured, I think they are misrepresenting the issue intentionally. Someone pushes the delete button. The issue of non professional behaviour in a professional setting is intentionally and dishonestly presented by these button pushers as the state arbitrarily trying to censure the religious… as if government agents are attempting to turn professionals into – gasp! – atheists. This is not only dishonest and intentionally so but downright ludicrous in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And defending this garrison mentality over religious expression takes away from this issue that is causing so much confusion elsewhere.

Government is far too often brimming with those willing and able to abuse their public offices to promote tolerance and respect and accommodation for religious behaviour in secular settings, and are rewarded with political gain for their supposed sensitivity and politically correctness for doing so.  Many in government and its bureaucracy are also are quite confused about this issue; they not only start inserting allowances for accommodating personal preferences in professional settings that are professionally inappropriate, but attempt to legislate this confusion into quasi-judicial kangaroo courts under the banner of human rights commissions and tribunals to enforce it and financially punish anyone daring to criticize this state-sponsored abuse publicly.

But governments are not alone in this abuse: professional oversight bodies themselves confuse where the professional obligations end and the personal expression begins, insisting that certain professionals must live under its codes of conduct and ethics all the time… even into their private lives and hold an individual’s professional recognition hostage to this end.

As you can see, the confusion is endemic and it is not clarified when religious defenders attempt to co-opt what is an important issue desperate for public exposure, debate, and change to be corralled into serving only in religion’s defense. The removal of this confusion is in defense of all, for all, by all.

March 22, 2011

Why are Priests for Life theological thugs?

First, who is Baby Joesph Maracchli and second, what’s the big deal about his medical care?

Joseph Maracchli, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born on January 22, 2010, and his parents say they noticed he couldn’t eat or breathe properly and wouldn’t open his eyes or cry. The family, who lives in Windsor, Ontario on the Canada – United States border near Michigan, took him to a Michigan hospital in June 2010, where he was diagnosed with a metabolic brain disease, which the doctor said would make him developmentally delayed. Maracchli was treated and returned to normal after a month. However, in October 2010 he developed a fever and was breathing rapidly and was rushed to the emergency room and later transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre in London (LHSC), Ontario. The hospital said he was in a persistent vegetative state from which he would never recover. Maracchli’s family wanted the staff there to do a tracheotomy so that they could take him home and he could die in the care of his family instead of a hospital. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

Enter our heroes, the Priests for Life, those celibate men of the cloth who (incredibly and without shame) think their religious beliefs equip them with the kind of god-soaked moral knowledge necessary to determine proper medical treatment over and above a team of highly trained and specialized medical professionals who actually care for children as their daily job. Let us keep in mind that there has never been a suffering life these meddling priests have not tried to prolong. The Terri Schiavo debacle immediately comes to mind.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University picks up the story:

Little Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the “pro-life” movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do – and what not to do – if we are really serious about saving human lives. The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

“We Rescued Baby Joseph!” says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization’s director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph’s stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn’t include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here’s the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child’s life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of “rescuing” Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives – most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We’ve seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into “saving” Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri – or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

But the Priests for Life don’t want to save lives in the sense of protecting the dignity of those who are already alive yet suffering; they want to prolong the biological functioning of a body regardless of the suffering… the younger the better and a fetus especially, even if it kills women to do so. Since becoming involved in the medical treatment of Baby Joseph, the Priests for Life have mobilized support from the likes of the Hope Network and the legions of catholics and christians who think these groups do god’s work. Now the medical staff at LSHC have been the recipients of the kind of faith-based love the anti-abortion crowd – championed as they are by Priests for Life – sends out to those who disagree with their beliefs: hate mail and death threats.

Oh, I can hear the faithful claiming loudly that those extremists don’t represent the mainstream religious.

But they do.

You see, Priests for Life and the anti-choice crowd are no different than the mainstream believers in that they don’t give a rat’s ass respecting your life;  they care only for life, which according to their beliefs belongs not to you but their god. And they will continue to act accordingly not to respect your rights and freedoms as an autonomous individual where dignity of personhood must reside, if the term ‘personal dignity’ is to have any personal meaning, but as god’s Stormtroopers out to protect what belongs to him. That’s why they’re theological thugs and are empowered by those who respect their beliefs about what god owns over and above respecting your personal dignity.

March 26, 2010

What is a Conscience Clause and why is it unconscionable?

A Conscience Clause is a clause in law or code of professional conduct that permits pharmacists, physicians, and other providers of health care not to provide certain medical services for reasons of religion or conscience. Those who choose not to provide services may not be disciplined or discriminated against. The provision is most frequently enacted in connection with issues relating to reproduction, such as abortion, sterilization, and contraception, (hence the term provider conscience is used) but may include any phase of patient care.

From the BBC comes an example of just how such a conscience clause can affect health care, with a tip to Misunderstoodranter who provided the link:

Pharmacists across the UK, for example, have been told they can continue to refuse to prescribe items that may clash with their religious beliefs. A revised code of conduct from the new industry regulator will allow staff to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill and contraception. But they may in future have to give customers details of alternative shops. The National Secular Society wanted the General Pharmaceutical Council to scrap the so-called conscience clause.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is to take over the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the registration of pharmacy premises from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society later this year. Under its new code, pharmacists with strong religious principles will still be able to continue to refuse to sell or prescribe products if they feel that doing so would contradict their beliefs. But the GPhC says pharmacists who refuse services could be obliged to tell patients where they can access them and it plans to consult more widely on the issue.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said he was disappointed by the code.

“This was a perfect opportunity to severely restrict the exercise of this supposed conscience clause which has caused a great deal of embarrassment and inconvenience to people recently. “It seems incredible that pharmacists can arbitrarily tell people that they won’t serve them with medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.” The issue was highlighted recently by a woman denied the pill by a Sheffield chemist. She was told to return to the shop the following day when another staff member would be on duty.

To help us see what is so unconscionable about this clause, imagine a police officer arriving at a domestic dispute but, rather than intervene and enforce the law, decides to arbitrarily  respect his conscionable religious beliefs about the respective roles of  ‘allowable’ conduct of husband and wife. What might be the problem here?

Imagine if operating room staff decided to respect conscionable adherence to proper religious clothing ahead of professional sterilization procedures. What might be the problem here?

Imagine a teacher in a language class insisting that all those of an opposite gender had to leave the room to suit one student’s religious sensibilities that agrees with the teacher’s. What might be the problem here?

When we allow professions to suspend and subvert their professional codes of conduct in place of and out of a misguided respect for personal religious beliefs held by individual practitioners, we are prostituting the profession. We undermine the ethical framework that describes the role each member of the profession is to uphold and allow religious belief to take its place out some misguided and unjustified sense of tolerance and reasonable accommodation. This subversion is unconscionable.

If someone decides that personal religious beliefs rather than professional standards should be the measure of conduct while acting as a representative of that profession, then the confused individual must either voluntarily resign or be stripped of professional status. One cannot have it both ways: if one wishes to act only as an individual with various beliefs and preferences, then that’s fine. Act as an individual by being an individual. But if one wishes to act as a representative of a profession, then one must be willing to put aside the personal while acting as a professional of that profession.

For example, it doesn’t matter what laws an individual may think deserves more respect than others: when acting as a police officer, one acts as a representative of the law and not a representative of the individual with preferences. The higher allegiance a police officer must have to be an ethical professional is not a greater respect for his or her individual preferences and beliefs but to the professional code of conduct under which he or she acts as a police officer. If one wishes to act as a representative of the profession of pharmacists, then one must put aside one’s personal preferences and beliefs and act according to the professional code of conduct of a health care provider.

When professional codes of conduct are perverted, abused, and manipulated to protect individuals exercising their personal preferences while acting as a representative of various professions, then each professional body that goes along with this abuse under a Conscience Clause has subverted its very reason for being.

In the same way, if enforcing the law is dependent on each individual police officer determining which laws he or she will enforce according to some personal preference, then we have subverted law enforcement. If we allow dispensing prescribed medication to be dependent on each individual pharmacist determining which drugs he or she will dispense according to some personal preference, then we have subverted health care. And to subvert what it means to be a professional – to act as a representative of that profession with recognized rights and privileges based on guidelines and rules and areas of specialized knowledge and expertise – to suit the unjustified religious beliefs of certain individuals within professional bodies does not serve either the interests of the profession as a whole or the public trust in that profession… it undermines our confidence in both the profession and the professional.

I think that to support this willing sacrifice of what it means to be a professional by professional bodies of oversight on the alter of religious belief under the fictitious banner of tolerance and accommodation is unconscionable stupidity and ethical capitulation.

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