“Religion and Reproductive Freedom” was presented from a feminist bioethics view on Sunday, the final day of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities annual conference. I’m fairly sure that no one else noticed the irony. The predictable results are discussed below.
Throughout the conference, I tried to attend presentations by Texans, in order to get to know other bioethicists in my State. I followed through on Sunday morning even though there were so many sessions that I wanted to attend, from “”Genetics,” to “Rethinking Rights in Bioethics.” Choosing between “Donation after Cardiac Death: Revisiting Ethical Uncertainty in the Face of Public Acceptance,” and “Bedside Meets Boardroom: Organizational and Professional Dilemmas When Admitting and Discharging Patients with Inadequate Psychosocial and Financial Resources” was the toughest. However, the latter covered immediate, real-time work in which I can affect policy and I know at least one of the presenters.
Representatives from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (in Houston) reported about the conditions in that facility after Katrina and during the evacuations of New Orleans and Houston a year ago were both encouraging and alarming.
Far too much of the Houston medical complex is at sea level and in the flood plain. We were urged to join efforts to coordinate emergency response efforts on local, State and Federal levels and to be honest with the public about the limits and realities that we might all face in times of disaster.
One speaker warned that we should be prepared – and warn others to be prepared – for large-scale emergencies. It is necessary to strengthen and adapt homes, hospitals and other structures to withstand and survive floods, extremes of weather and, as much as possible, crises brought on by terrorism. The speaker is convinced that in the case of the more catastrophic events – such as level 5 hurricanes, an influenza pandemic on the scale of 1918, or the successful deployment of bioterrorism or weapons of mass destruction, there may come a time when each family will need to care for ourselves for a few days or weeks, and for the possibility that “no one is coming.”
(From me: At the least, be familiar with such advice as is available online. Take a look at the Red Cross Family Disaster Planning information. You might also consider beginning to store up water and food that doesn’t require gas or electric power or much water to prepare, etc., and keep the supplies current. All those solar chargers bought before “Y2K” don’t seem such a waste anymore.)
The “Religion and Reproductive Freedom” session was typical of the major problem of the conference: too little time for the material presented and for the Q & A. That, and I was unable to get my questions in the public discussion, due to the fact that the men were more assertive and were recognized almost exclusively (I think only one woman was recognized) by the speakers. (More irony)
I wasn’t surprised by most of the content of this session, but I was surprised that – like my Rhode Island friend – at least 2 of the presenters seem to have never actually had a conversation with someone who is pro-life. (Or, as they called us, “the religious right.” As in contrast to the “progressives” and the “religious progressives.”)
Every one of us who has had an actual discussion – or read one on the internet – between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” advocates could have predicted the stereotypical content and direction of the presentations by Carolyn McLeod, Ph.D. and Laura M. Purdy, Ph.D.:(summarized, by me, from my own perception) “Abortion must be allowed, those ignorant, oppressive and oppressed religious people don’t want us to have abortion, they are dangerous, we are enlightened, the doctors and pharmacists could have chosen a different career,” etc.
In contrast, the other two presenters have evidently met some religious people that aren’t dangerous, although unfortunately, (again, in my own opinion) their perceptions are based on the degree of acceptance of abortion by those who identify as religious.
Neither of the two women named above were amused by my comment that I had been “grandmothered” into a world where I am a doctor faced with the constant challenges to my belief that human life begins at the beginning of biological development: the single-celled zygote.
I was surprised to hear Dr. Purdy refer to the Bible, while repeatedly noting that she is not very familiar with it. As I told her, I would be embarrassed to use a reference that I had not studied enough to (at least in my own mind) understand.
Dr. McLeod, who questioned the “Value of Conscience,” when medical professionals refuse to participate in abortion, was not happy with my objection that I have an informed and educated conscience, and that I have faced the challenges through the years by educating myself and thinking them through. It was at this point that she began to say something about “Bush, . . .” I interrupted her to make my point (again) that I make my decisions and choices, that I have been a doctor longer than George Bush has been President, and that I, and no one else, have made my “choices.”
I regret the interruption now, I wish I knew how Dr. McLeod would have continued. As I told her, I’m “comfortable with dichotomy,” and prefer to research each of my positions and to make informed decisions, and that I attempt to make sure that these decisions are guided by science and empirical evidence. Unfortunately, she needed to catch her plane.
It’s a shame when caring, passionate people cannot discuss such vital issues without stereotypes, name calling, and with no possibility of empathy toward the other’s viewpoint. I believe that Drs. McLeod and Purdy and I truly wish to protect women from harm. We have very different conclusions about abortion and the children who are placed at risk by so many “reproductive healthcare” practices. We probably can’t change the minds of our opposites. However, I do believe that we could find common ground on the protection of women, children, and the more helpless around us.
Did anyone else notice how much of the conference dealt with Public Health Ethics and disasters that threaten lives? It’s time to consider that bioethics covers more than abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cells.