Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

March 31, 2011

Using Their Weapons Against Them? – Not So Good When the Weapon is Women’s Bodies

by @ 8:24 PM. Filed under Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

I’m sorry to have to say it, but I’m not totally diggin’ this:

Sierra Club: Fetus Toxins

It’s from the Sierra Club’s new ad campaign “to remind our representatives who they are actually hurting when they attack the EPA.” I’m entirely in agreement with the goal of the campaign, and even with the message of this ad (“gutting emissions regulations results in greater release of toxins, which can do their worst damage during fetal development”). But I have reservations about its methods.

The obvious function of the ad, of course, is that it plays to the right-wing’s proclaimed concern for fetuses to the exclusion of all other health issues (including, of course, pre-natal care, gynecology, infant and child care, and other such irrelevancies). And the fact that the imagery plays so obviously and shamelessly off of the right wing’s fetish for pregnant bellies – in this case to prod them to do something to improve people’s health, rather than take away their rights to healthcare, is an amusing irony. But it’s just those points that leave me uncomfortable.

First, there’s something in a way defeatist, or at least pessimistic, about the focus of the campaign: because the GOP only cares about unborn fetuses, we have to couch every issue in terms of its impact on fetuses. (“Wear your seatbelt – so your fetus doesn’t get hurt!” “Support solar power – so your fetus will use less oil!” “Don’t spread deadly poisons in the environment – because it might hurt some of the fetuses of the less than 1% of the population that’s pregnant at any given time!”) But surrendering every issue to the religious right’s fetus-fetish takes everyone else in the population out of the picture. Mercury, dioxin, and other poisons in the environment hurt everyone. It matters that young children who have grown out of the right’s preferred age for adulation (i.e., they’ve been born already) are also vulnerable to developmental delays and all the other effects of environmental toxins; it matters that adults are crippled and killed by heavy metal poisoning; it matters that the women who are carrying these favored fetuses are also affected by the poisons they ingest – in addition to the fetuses that are the focus of concern in this campaign: these are the people who are hurt when the right wing attackes the EPA – why can’t the Sierra Club, of all people, say so? It may be true that the right only cares about fetuses (and then largely as tools for hurting women, who are their real obsession), but allowing them to forget everyone else is to forfeit the major part of the fight to them without contest. When progressives’ campaigns have the same focus, same tactics, and same blind spots as the reactionaries they are campaigning against, much is lost even if those campaigns succeed.

The second, and perhaps more striking, issue that arises for me from this ad is the imagery that is used. When I said it leaves everyone but the fetus out of the picture, I meant it literally. This ad replays in every detail one of the most common, and most offensive, tropes of anti-choice misogyny: the faceless pregnant woman reduced to nothing but her belly. (Can’t say “uterus“, you know!) You see it everywhere (and, as @ClinicEscort points out, particularly in stories about abortion): a woman’s body reduced to nothing but swollen boobs and swollen belly, or often just the belly – the face is always cut off, just out of the frame. The effect – and unquestionably the purpose – is to erase the woman from her own pregnancy. It’s fetus porn, with the woman dehumanized just as badly as, and in some ways even more fully than, in sexual porn (where at least you can often see the face). It’s the kind of misogynist metonymy that at least has come to be recognized (if not eliminated) in product advertising, but apparently still goes unremarked in issue or values advertising – even though its major function is to promote the value of dehumanizing women. That it does reflect and promote the right-wing vision of women goes without saying: women as pregnant vessels who are not even named or acknowledged, and certainly have no interests or needs that deserve to be addressed in their own right, could hardly be better illustrated than by photographs of them as exactly that, used in campaigns aimed at denigrating women’s interests in favor of the “interests” of an unborn fetus.

It’s infuriating to see progressive groups use such images and tactics. This goes beyond simply bowing to the reality of the  right’s indifference to women by finding another “hook” for an issue; this actively embraces and endorses its dehumanizing methods in order to use them for that other issue – exactly what the right wants. What I want is something better than this from nominal allies.

March 30, 2011

HotLips Rides Again!

by @ 9:36 PM. Filed under General, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Women's Issues

I haven’t been paying much attention to the show Nurse Jackie. I have seen other work by the star Edie Falco and admire her as an actor, and I gather her current show is popular, though I haven’t seen it and I don’t know much about it. I vaguely wondered if it really had much to do with nursing or healthcare, and whether it presented any interesting issues, but, as I said, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Just now, however, I happened to open a magazine and find a full-page ad for the new season that began this week, featuring a large color picture of Edie Falco in her nurse’s uniform, and two thoughts popped immediately to mind: (1) “Nice tits!“; and (2) “Wait a minute . . .

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Familiar Disinformation Assault on Planned Parenthood Now Building

by @ 3:15 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

Right-wing sites are loudly touting yet another of their doctored videos and deceptive recordings to vilify Planned Parenthood – this time with an accusation so blatantly misconceived it hardly makes sense.

The anti-choice “Live-Action Blog” has prominently posted a short video clip of Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards explaining the impact of the GOP proposal to gut all Title X (federal reproductive healthcare) funding as well as any funds specifically for treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics. (This is the budget amendment to “defund Planned Parenthood” that has been much talked-about, but it is important to note that it kills all Title X funding entirely, as well as any other treatments at PP specifically from all other funding sources). As Richards notes, entirely correctly:

What’s gonna happen, if this bill becomes law, millions of women in this country are going to lose their healthcare access, not to abortion services, [but] to basic family planning, mammograms . . .

I don’t know what else she said, because they cut that off. The clip just repeats the word “mammograms, mammograms, mammograms” over and over – as if they’ve broken some kind of scandal in proving that the head of a women’s health service would be concerned with access to a basic and universally recommended women’s healthcare procedure.

The clip then goes on to include secretly-recorded conversations at a couple of dozen PP clinics in which . . . another scandal! . . . the receptionist confirms that Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide mammograms, but offers to refer the deceptive “patient” to a facility that does. They’ll even help you get an appointment and fill out the paperwork for a subsidy for the cost. This, the wingnut blogs are breathlessly screaming, is a immense “scam”.

So, these anti-choice “activists” have broken a really big expose of Planned Parenthood, right? (OK – if you couldn’t have guessed the answer to that without even reading the story, you haven’t been paying attention.)

They certainly think they have, or at least claim so: Live-Action blares “Planned Parenthood CEO’s False Mammogram Claim Exposed”; Left Coast Rebel claims that “Cecile Richard’s, CEO of Planned Parenthood, lied and did more to limit access to mammograms than defunding” (the latter part appears to be some convoluted argument that PP is actually denying women mammograms by referring them to facilities that provide mammograms – this is right-wing thinking on healthcare); the always-wrong Erick Erickson repeats that claim, asking “Does Supporting Planned Parenthood Increase The Risk of Breast Cancer?” (um, no – it increase your probability of being referred for a mammogram, at an appropriate facility); David Brody calls this “The Mammogram Scam”. And there’s more. Around the blogosphere, yet another coordinated Planned Parenthood “sting” is taking place, broadcasting false and just bizarrely distorted secret and misleadingly-edited tapes that mean almost the opposite of what they are twisted to say.

You have to ask: are the media going to fall for it again? Time after time, these false tapes have been dutifully repeated in the news without the slightest critical inspection (one of them was the reason for the “defund Planned Parenthood” bill – now another equally false one just happens to pop up claiming that the impact of that bill is actually evidence of a financial ripoff by Planned Parenthood itself). We can only hope this persistent and organized campaign of distortion and outright dishonesty will be recognized this time. (The Washington Post already failed.)

Let me make one point about this ridiculous “denying care” argument, before pointing out what the tape actually did say. Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide mammograms on-site; they do make referrals of patients requesting (or who have been recommended to receive) mammograms to other facilities that provide them. In some cases of these fake patients requesting them over the phone, they wound up having to call a couple of numbers to find a place where they could get a procedure that that Planned Parenthood clinic does not provide. The argument here is that it is apparently Planned Parenthood’s fault they didn’t provide instant access to a procedure a random caller requested from a facility that doesn’t offer it. On-site, some of these clinics (depending on the clinic and the state) apparently can help patients get mammograms elsewhere by providing referrals and forms to request funding from a state program that also subsidizes those procedures. The argument about this is apparently that PP is taking federal funding for mammogram services and using it merely to shunt patients off to some other facility where the procedure is funded some other way. This is nonsense in both cases, obviously. Every medical facility of every kind has a specific range of services it provides, and will refer patients to other facilities for other procedures; the fact that a given clinic does not have a specialized and expensive facility on-site, that only some of its patients need, and which requires a dedicated technician to operate, is hardly surprising and in no way unusual. As for Title X, it does provide funding for mammograms among many other things, and PP does get funding for some services under Title X, but obviously that funding is not for particular services they don’t provide, it is for the services they do provide. PP clinics do not get any funding for mammograms; what they get is Title X funding for the many other services that can be provided in an OB-GYN clinic, and which they do provide. In many cases they cooperate with cancer screening programs run by other facilities, including well-respected groups such as the Susan Komen Fund. There is no wasting of Title X funds on patients who get mammograms from X-ray facilities outside PP offices; and no denial or delay of care – if anything, the patients get mammograms faster and more readily, thanks to PP, because PP provides them with access to internists or OB-GYNs who recommend such screenings and provide referrals for them – exactly the services that the GOP is trying to kill off.

As to what the tape actually does show: Richards doesn’t say that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms; she doesn’t even mention Planned Parenthood in the edited clip they show. PP clinics do not provide mammograms for a very good reason: a mammogram, while routine, is a specialized radiological procedure that requires an X-ray suite and a trained technician. Most OB-GYN clinics don’t have an X-ray suite. They send women to X-ray facilities for that. (Your doctor doesn’t have a medical lab, either – they send your blood and urine to a specialized facility and get the results back by computer. This is standard.)

What Richards does say, correctly, is that the GOP cuts to women’s healthcare will prevent vast numbers of women from getting basic care, including mammograms, from many sources or providers. The GOP proposal cuts all funding for Title X, which does fund mammograms (at X-ray facilities, not gynecological clinics, because mammograms involve X-rays, therefore they’re done at X-ray facilities . . . am I going too fast for you, right-wingers?), and will have a considerable impact on the availability of mammograms, as well as other forms of care, for women nationwide.

Richards was pointing out the impact of this vicious bill on women’s healthcare across the board, not just in respect of her own organization, and she did so honestly and perfectly correctly. The anti-woman contingent couldn’t be bothered to understand what she was saying, or provide the context of the question she was answering, or even the full sentence in which she answered it, before whipping up another howling storm of falsehood and deception.

[UPDATE: Title X funds "breast and cervical cancer screening according to nationally recognized standards of care", which in practice means manual breast exams for individual patients during office visits, and referral for mammograms for patients with a positive manual screen. It does not appear to fund routine mammograms, though their Web site is so vague it is hard to tell exactly how it works.]

“Appropriate” Treatments: Categorical, or Situational?

by @ 1:32 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Disability Issues, General, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Theory

There’s a provocative post over at the excellent KevinMD Web site:

Overeating is a behavioral problem, not a surgical one

This may seem to be a statement of the obvious, but the solution to a behavioral problem is not surgery. Overeating is not a surgical problem — it is a behavioral one. The problem is not because the stomach is too big and needs to be made smaller. It is a function of how much food is put into the stomach. Surgical “solutions” should be the absolute last resort measure.

The letter – from an Australian physician who touts himself on the Web as a “DIY health” guru – goes on to make a number of good points about bariatric surgery (mostly stomach-banding), couched in terms of clinical efficacy and relative risk: it does not work for everyone; the campaign to expand the qualifying criteria may include patients who have marginal need or expected benefit; there are known side effects and long-term safety is unknown; the promoters are compromised by conflicts of interest. These are all relevant considerations. But the overall tone in the letter, and even more so the comments, is both judgmental and dismissive. (From commenters: “People are obese simply because of their own behavioral inability to control their diet . . . the solution still lies FIRST in the individual admitting his/her 100% responsibility in the problem weight.” “Obesity results solely from laziness and apathy, which consequently are the same traits that are leading to the devolution of our species.”)

The giveaway here is the headline: yes, overeating is of course a “behavioral problem”, not a surgical one, because in this context “behavioral problem” clearly refers to the etiology of a pathological condition (obesity), while “surgical [problem]” clearly refers to the preferred mode of treatment for that condition. The writer conflates the two categories, and then draws an inference from a logical contradiction of his own making: it’s true that the  etiology of this condition is not its treatment, but that’s true in every case, so that hardly tells against that treatment considered in and of itself. We can reinterpret the sentence to make sense, but only by making it obviously absurd: either “Overeating is a behavioral treatment, not a surgical treatment” or “Overeating, not surgery, is the cause of obesity”. There is a vacuity of clinical concepts here that suggests something else is at work in the writer’s animosity to certain kinds of treatments.

What the writer is really trying to say is this: “Obesity is caused by behavior, and should not be treated by surgery”. And the logical implication of that statement, and the letter and comments that follow, is this: “Obesity is caused by behavior, and therefore should not be treated by surgery”. The clinical counter-indications for surgery (and medical treatments for obesity – he’s against pills, too) that the writer details do not really seem to be the issue in his mind. Instead, certain treatments are ruled in or out categorically, on the basis of criteria of appropriateness that seem to hinge on his view of what health and medicine are fundamentally about, or how they are fundamentally related. There is a sense that diet is better than medical treatment because it is lower-risk, but also a sense that people who brought their conditions upon themselves behaviorally should be expected to work out their own salvation without clinical intervention. There is a clear implication that the writer would still object to bariatric surgery even if it were safer and more effective, simply because it’s not the kind of treatment he thinks this condition should get, in some essential sense (“obvious[ly] . . . the solution to a behavioral problem is not surgery”). Because the condition is behavioral, the treatment should be behavioral: QED.

From this perspective, the choice of treatments for a given condition depends on some sort of criteria of categorical appropriateness – a determination of what kinds of treatments are appropriate to any given condition, only after which do questions of safety and efficacy come into play. (This becomes more obvious in the letter above when the writer airily dismisses the notorious psychological difficulties of dieting with remarks about “responsibility for one’s actions”.) And this is the question that really got my attention about this issue. The concept of “appropriate” treatment is one that gets to the heart of healthcare as a practice, and of the ethical dimensions of such seemingly scientific concepts as the definition of disease, relative risk, and clinical indications for treatment.

To define clinical indications in some way other than in terms of clinical efficacy establishes medicine as a categorically defined practice: a praxis incorporating certain beliefs or techniques that are “just right”, and eschewing others as “just wrong”. The old ethic of “doctor knows best” exemplifies this idea to some extent (in regard of the roles of patient and physician: the doctor prescribes; the patient complies). More broadly, medical ethics based on a perception of distinctly medical virtues and traditions (Pellegrino’s “internal ethic of medicine”) makes all of medicine categorical; more than that, it moves the locus of medical ethics entirely inside the profession, such that what is right or wrong for a given patient is what is or is not in keeping with the behavioral standards applicable to the doctor. Even more modern theories of medical ethics do the same to the extent that they perceive specific types of treatments as right or wrong in and of themselves.

The movement toward patient autonomy and patient-centered care challenges this ethos at a basic level: the whole idea that patients may determine their own interests for themselves necessarily implies that healthcare is defined as serving those interests (or else we get a macabre dissociation between what patients need and what healthcare is for). The patient-centered ethic has fundamentally reformed healthcare practice in many areas, most notably refusal and termination of unwanted treatments, and more indirectly through the rise of cosmetic, nutritional, sports- or adventure-oriented, assisted reproductive, and other forms of “aspirational” (rather than pathology-driven) healthcare. The idea that what patients need is not determined by the pursuit and maintenance of “normal species functioning” – never exceeding its bounds and normal range, either positively or negatively – throws open a potentially unlimited range of possible treatments for any given condition, and indeed a potentially unlimited range of praxis under any conditions, whether or not defined in terms of disease and treatment. (The body modification movement blows the doors off the disease/treatment model, and increasingly off of any old-fashioned notions of normal species functioning.)

From this perspective, it is impossible even to formulate a declaration of the form: Because the condition is ________, the treatment should be ________. Radically patient-centered care does not require a “condition” to authorize a “treatment”, and takes it as fundamental that some patients may deny that an otherwise-recognized “condition” even exists (as in the case of the “fat acceptance” movement), while others may perceive, personally, a pathology in what would previously have been perceived categorically as normal (as with gender identity disorder). In addition, the particular best treatment for any given patient, whatever their circumstances, will be the one that best meets that patient’s interests as they themselves understand them – which may well be a riskier surgical procedure rather than a more burdensome lifestyle change, or vice versa, as they themselves perceive is best for them.

The significance of this non-categorical, patient-centered, situationally-responsive understanding of healthcare praxis is enormous. Aside from the overt impact on practical healthcare that the patient-autonomy movement continues to have, embracing a truly patient-centered ethic of care guides thinking about how to understand patient needs and how to meet them. In particular, it rules out categorical thinking of the type that prohibits providing certain treatments (with due consideration of cost, risk, and expected benefit) for a given patient or category of patient because they do not conform to some generic standard of appropriateness, and it requires that the patient’s own understanding of their goals, priorities, and risk-tolerance, be the determinative factors. Clearly the message hasn’t reached all corners yet.

March 29, 2011

It Works Both Ways

by @ 1:29 PM. Filed under Autonomy, General, Healthcare Politics, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

Since the anti-choicers are so very concerned about minority interests that they insist on stealing every woman’s autonomy  because a potential black leader fetus might someday be aborted, it’s only logically consistent to pay attention to the upside of that issue:

Aborting an Anti-Choice Terrorist - Griffin

Aborting an Anti-Choice Terrorist: Hill

Aborting an Anti-Choice Terrorist: Kopp

Aborting an Anti-Choice Terrorist: Roeder

Aborting an Anti-Choice Terrorist: Rudolph

That’s just a fraction of the total, even considering murderers alone. Almost no suspects have ever even been named in the over 200 arsons and bombings, or close to 100 other attempted arsons and bombings, or the literally thousands of vandalisms and chemical attacks committed at health clinics across the US, not to mention the many attempted murders, public “targeting” of chosen victims (some of them later murdered), personal harassment and threats to healthcare providers, and uncountable incidents of on-site harassment and violence directed at clinic staff and patients, that are the stock in trade of Christian anti-choice terrorism.

No person loses their life in an abortion. But here you can see just some of the people who would be alive today if the terrorists above, and others like them, had been aborted before they murdered them. If we’re counting up the possible impact on society, well, there’s only one Obama, but there’s plenty of these shitheads. So, all things considered . . .

[NB: Of course the entire line of reasoning is nonsense. The fact that some unpredictable thing could occur sometime in the future is no reason to force anyone to bring about circumstances that might randomly, but not foreseeably, result in that outcome, even ignoring the fact that it is their decision whether they want to do so. The same reasoning would not only justify mandatory childbirth, but mandatory pregnancy, and in fact mandatory maximum reproduction regardless of risk or cost - since one of those unwanted children might do enough good to offset all the suffering required to produce it. That this is in fact the official policy of the Catholic Church makes it no less insane or misogynist. It's also illogical: there's no guarantee that any child - still less an unlimited number of unwanted children imposed by force - will do more harm than good, so the proposition that there's a harm to society in aborting them is no more provable than that there's a good to society in doing so, as the above images demonstrate.]

March 28, 2011

The Giftie’s Power

by @ 7:04 PM. Filed under General, Meta

Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for Older People compared to Younger People.

I hate taking the Implicit Association Test, but it’s a good thing to do.

Having mentioned it in my previous post (below), I was prompted to go do it again. The test that came up is on age groups; they have a wide range of others. I’ve taken the famous one on race, and it also showed a slight bias; almost everyone does.

It’s important not to read to much into things like this, but it’s important not to dismiss it, too.

What’s On My Mind

by @ 11:21 AM. Filed under General, Meta, Women's Issues

Sufficient Scruples TagCloud - March 2011

Relative frequency of terms appearing on this blog over the last roughly 18 months (from the lovely Wordle online application).

Nothing surprising here (although it does appear to be weighted somewhat for more recent posts – “Hinckley” appears in only one post, and it seems much too prominent above).

A couple of observations: abortion looms about as large as it has to, but too large to be comfortable. That is, so much of practical bioethics is taken up by trying to stave off the continual, desperate assault on abortion rights that other issues – ones that actually have a significant ethical (rather than purely religious or political) issue at their core – get short shrift. Likewise, women’s issues predominate in bioethics because, as with abortion, so much of practical politics on bioethical issues is driven by misogyny. One longs for the luxury of moving on to other things.

“Fact” is prominent, which pleases me; at the core of rational bioethics is the fact/value distinction, in which regard it is almost always the facts that are under-represented, and I hope my writing balances the two. For the same reason, though, I am not sorry to note that “feelings” gets almost as much weight. “Right” and “law” are fairly prominent, which may be a source of chagrin for a consequentialist ethicist, but you can’t deny their importance in practical policymaking. I don’t understand how “treatment” is so large and “patient” is so small, or how certain other terms that I think are common do not seem emphasized here, but as I said, it appears that the terms are not equally weighted over time, so there may be a distortion resulting from mere differences in time of appearance.

I notice that LGBTQ and disability issues are not very obvious in the above, which bothers me. And though the emphasis on women’s issues evidences a feminist perspective that I hope is clear in the blog, the word “feminism” doesn’t appear above, which is a suggestive oversight. (In a way, a tag cloud is kind of like the Implicit Association Test – you reveal your own mental processes through behavioral patterns you weren’t consciously aware of.)

Still, interesting, no? Is anyone surprised by any of this? What terms are missing? What dark psychoses do you detect from the pattern above?

March 24, 2011

Medical Vengeance: Interminable Detention for Mental Patients

by @ 11:06 PM. Filed under Autonomy, Disability Issues, General, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Theory

Patti Davis – daughter of Ronald Reagan – has an opinion article in Time Magazine today, arguing against the release of John Hinckley from the psychiatric hospital where he was confined after attempting to assassinate Reagan 30 years ago this week, in the throes of a psychiatric obsession that led him to seek fame through violence. The piece is calm and rationally written, and sympathetically conveys the suffering of the several victims of the shooting and their families. But it’s a perfect example of the dangers of confusing punitive and rehabilitative detention, and of treating medicine and psychiatry as tools for governmental control of citizens’ beliefs, values, or behavior.

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Not Waiting to Exhale

by @ 2:24 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, General Science, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Women's Issues

Here’s an interesting peer-to-peer phone-line support service for women who have had an abortion and want to talk to other women about it.

Exhale serves women who have abortions, and their partners, friends and family. We respect the cultural, social and religious beliefs of all our callers.

Apparently they’ve been in operation for about 8 years, and claim to have taken close to 20,000 calls; I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of them before. Their Web site makes them sound like a neutral listening post for those who want to talk about their experiences and feelings about them, regardless of what those feelings might be or what the caller’s perspective on the whole issue is. I have no direct experience with this group, so I can’t say how accurate this is or how well it works, but the Web site seems to me like it takes just the right tone:

  • Exhale views each individual as a “whole person,” respects their belief system and strives for cultural competency.
  • Exhale believes that self-awareness, self-care, and knowledge can empower individuals.
  • Exhale seeks to transform oppression by challenging its roots and empowering each other and our communities.
  • Exhale values the spirit of collaboration.
  • Exhale believes abortion can be a normal part of the reproductive lives of women and girls.

The problem, of course, is that the entire notion of abortion “counseling” is generally a deception perpetrated by anti-choice groups to trick women into being manipulated with slut-shaming and false information. That makes me leery of any group – however honest and above-board – that sets itself up to provide such counseling. And, given the documented fact that abortion is not uniquely associated with psychological trauma, and since we don’t normally set up support groups for every individual outpatient surgical procedure (“Expel seeks to transform colonoscopy . . .”), the implication that there needs to be one for abortion specifically also smacks – just a bit, perhaps – of a negative, or at least defensive, stance toward abortion in general. But their Web site specifically disclaims this, and, without direct knowledge, I’m willing to take them at their word.

It is valid to recognize that abortion can be an emotionally fraught experience. While it is an important, useful, and sometimes life-saving procedure, abortion is unusual (though hardly unique) in that it is a treatment for a condition that is often regarded as actually desirable, and that most women, including most women who have abortions, will seek voluntarily at some point in their lives. There is no contradiction in the fact that pregnancy can be wanted under some circumstances and unwanted under others, and it makes only the most obvious kind of sense that there should be treatments available for those cases in which it is unwanted, and that many women will want “an abortive remedy” when that serves their needs and interests under their particular circumstances. But it is understandable, too, that an unwanted pregnancy may call up thoughts about pregnancies they patient may want or embrace under other circumstances, and that a particular pregnancy may be unwanted due to immediate circumstances that the patient wishes she could change, and would be wanted under those changed circumstances. So it’s easily understandable that some women’s feelings about their abortions would be complex, even while they are firm in their conviction that having one is/was right under the circumstances at the time.

Given the virulent campaign to make women feel guilty for making their own decisions about pregnancy, and to use that manufactured shame and guilt as a tool to keep them from doing so, even admitting that women may have conflicted feelings about abortion, or indeed that it is possible to be conflicted about one’s decisions without that fact undermining the right to make one’s own decisions at all, is the kind of frank discussion of fact that becomes so dangerous in the face of organized campaigns of falsehood that consistently distort facts to attack women’s independence. But an honest discussion of abortion, and honest, respectful, and welcoming acknowledgment of the women who have abortions, requires treating simple facts in a true and honest way. It in no way undermines the pro-choice principle – even if it will be used as a dishonest political attack – t0 say that women may have complicated feelings about pregnancy and abortion and may want to talk about them, and it serves those women more fully and respectfully to address that need openly and provide a tool for meeting it.

One bit of the Exhale Web site took me aback, and then left me even more impressed with their apparent devotion to honest and value-neutral service to women. They say:

If you have been diagnosed, or have self-diagnosed, as having Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome, Exhale understands that having a name for what you’re feeling and experiencing can feel important.  Many women find the experience of identifying with this syndrome as positive and affirming.  It is also important to know that having feelings about a significant life event doesn’t mean that you have a major psychological condition that requires medical care.  For many women, naming and expressing their emotions, and having the space and support to do so, can be more empowering than being identified as having a disorder.  Whether or not you think you have PASS, the most important thing is that you get support for what you’re feeling, not what someone else thinks you should be feeling.  Exhale trusts you to know what feels right for yourself.

Exhale follows the findings of the American Psychological Association, which has not found a link between feelings that follow an abortion and a psychological condition in need of medical care.

This is startling, but strikes me as exactly right. “Post-Abortion Syndrome” is a wholly imaginary and deeply dishonest “diagnosis” invented out of whole cloth by anti-choicers. It exists (actually, is claimed to “exist”) only to discredit abortion – a procedure that serves women’s health and autonomy interests in a centrally vital way, and is actually safer than childbirth in almost all cases – as somehow pathological, in open defiance of established data (yet another example of a tactic that is pervasive on the right wing). The campaign to tout this fraudulent “syndrome” as a real condition has misled many women, often the youngest and most vulnerable among them; this is not just a travesty of medical science but an assault on women and their freedom. But the fact that some women have been conned into worrying about this fake disease, or mistaking their own natural complexity of feelings, or even regret, for some sort of illness on their part, must be met sensitively and with respect for the women who have those feelings, and the feelings they have.

It is unconscionable to participate in or endorse the deceptions the misogynist right practices against women and women’s independence, but it is vital to meet those women themselves, where they are and as they are feeling, and to validate their own perceptions of their situations and help them deal with them on their own terms. Exhale seems to walk this line bravely (given how easily such a stance can be misconstrued and used against them) and sensitively (given the difficulty of managing such a delicate distinction).

From what I see here – and again, I have no direct knowledge – the group hits the nail right on the head, in terms of acknowledging the range of women’s experiences and prioritizing their own perspectives on their situations, without downplaying every woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health. (Including family and friends, including men, in their services is also a sign of a sensitive and realistically broad approach.) Healthcare has more and more come to recognize the importance of a wholistic approach to patients’ needs and experiences, including post-treatment support. In a field in which any admission of need is turned into yet another attack on women’s strength and claim to independence, simple decency and understanding can become a liability. By refusing to play those games, the approach that Exhale seems to embody returns the truly important issue – women’s need for service, support, acceptance, and respect – to the center of the abortion issue where it belongs.

I’d be interested in hearing what others think or have seen, regarding Exhale or similar services. Has anyone who is willing to discuss it here participated in such counseling, or served as a facilitator? How significant is this sort of support, and does it help?

UPDATE: Wow, am I a dumbass! Somehow I completely forgot about this organization, after I had previously blogged about it back when they were first starting up! Guess I should read my own blog more often.

Additionally, I have heard from well-respected sources that Exhale is legit – they will talk to anyone in a non-judgmental way, but are in no way anti-choice.

March 23, 2011

Conservatives on Healthcare: Wanting it NotBoth Ways

by @ 5:08 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics

QOTD:

Conservative politicians often seem to me to be in [a] web of contradiction. On the one hand, they laud the consequences of generous public subsidies for the consumption of health care services and darkly warn of the perils of rationing. Then on the other hand, they insist that the projected rate of increase in government health care spending is far too high. Which is it?

- Matt Yglesias

Yes – and add to that the simply dishonest obliviousness to market-based rationing that makes the US healthcare system worst among developed nations in total-population average outcomes for many aspects of care, and the weird categorical thinking that makes government-paid care somehow bad or immoral and private-paid care good or virtuous, for exactly the same care from the same providers, and you have an entire political wing that is simply cognitively incompetent to make policy decisions.

A phenomenon that is not restricted to healthcare, it might also be noted.

March 18, 2011

Bold New Look!

by @ 3:04 PM. Filed under Meta

Though pleased with the sophisticatedly muted palette the blog has sported ever since birth, I finally bit the bullet and took a huge leap into a future of crazed decadence and unbridled sensual indulgence: I added colored hyperlinks. The grey links among the black text were hard to pick out – as others have mentioned before – so I’ve changed them to dark blue. Hope that helps, though frankly I think it’s declassé. I mean, once you’ve added one color, it’s just a short step to, you know . . . more than one.

But wait . . . there’s more . . . !

Watch this space for new and exciting developments, coming soon to the right-hand sidebar! (What could it be? . . .)

The Drill (Divide & Conquer on Reproductive Rights)

by @ 11:58 AM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Healthcare Politics, Reproductive Ethics, Women's Issues

From Comrade DougJ at Balloon Juice, this says it perfectly:

You know the drill on the politics of reproductive rights: most voters support a woman’s right to choose, but those who oppose it are much more likely to be one issue voters. Most anti-choice legislation focuses on fucking with poor people who vote Democrat anyway, so as not to alienate more middle-class and upper-class women (who are often strongly pro-choice but sometimes vote Republican anyway). I have to wonder at what point all this bullshit turns a lot of middle-class and upper-class women into single issue pro-choice voters. All this crap will stop as soon as that happens, but it will continue unabated until it does.

The key point is that the right wing hates upper-class women as much as they do lower class women (though for fewer reasons: they’re not poor, and more likely to be white, so that eliminates certain causes of the antagonism, but not its strength). Because of the class divide, the assault on women has less effect on the upper class, but the motivation is still there. When upper-class women begin to feel it, they’ll respond. (And in that regard, the move to eliminate tax deductions for all and only health plans that cover abortion may be welcome prod, as DougJ notes in the above-linked post.)

Sadly, solidarity begins when suffering is shared, not when it is merely noted. But GOP overreach makes that almost inevitable.

March 14, 2011

More Ghoulish Posturing in a Vegetative-State Case

by @ 4:03 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, Disability Issues, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles

The “Baby Joseph” case has been making the rounds of the right-wing press for some time, and is now in the mainstream press due to a confluence of right-wing hype and a predictably distorted Canada-vs.-US angle. As always, bad cases make good press releases, and rational standards of care suffer.

(more…)

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