Two extremely important issues–that are not strictly health related–are holding up the health care bill. These are: whether the government should help fund abortions and whether the government should help fund end-of-life consultations between patients and physicians. Anyone who knows my novels knows that I’m a feminist and so would expect me to support Pro-Choice, and I do. Anyone who has read Naked Singularity knows that I would fight for choice on the issue of euthanasia too. Nevertheless, I think both should be withdrawn from the bill. Here’s why:
As I said at the top of this post both of these issues are not strictly health related. Neither abortions nor euthanasia are done (usually) to improve the health of patients (there isn’t as much of an argument going on about saving the mother’s life if it is threatened by pregnancy). Abortion and euthanization are performed for other, very important, reasons, but not for health of the patient. They are performed for social health, to provide relief, to eliminate suffering and etc. (See previous post on the problems created by illegality of euthanasia, which leaves people vulnerable to fraudulent or unskilled health care workers, as did the illegality of abortion in former days.) They just don’t belong in the health bill if they are going to hold it up. My peers whom I support on these Pro-Choice issues are not going to be happy with my saying this but, “Pick your battles.” These arguments have no place in the health insurance argument and are endangering the welfare of millions of people currently without health insurance. Let’s get health care fixed first and work on these other issues separately.
The reason why I think these Pro-Choice issues need to be dealt with in a separate arena is this: they are way too complicated than any supporters dare to let on. In order to get these through with the health care bill, we have to pretend that the issue is cut and dry and a person’s right to choose is always accompanied by joyous freedoms and relief from pain. This just isn’t true. The decision to abort or to euthanize must always be extremely painful and colored with deep sadness. Sometimes it might the right thing to do, under the circumstances; other times it might not. Doing what’s best is not always easy. What’s best is often some kind of compromise that balances various important gains and horrible losses.
It must really frustrate the Pro-Lifers that the supporters of Choice don’t seem willing or able to acknowledge their feelings with regard to taking life. I am an atheist, so I am not going to engage with anyone who wants to try to determine the moment of ensoulment, whether that occurs at conception or when an embryo becomes a fetus, etc, etc. It never occurs. But life is life. And that embryo was on its way to becoming a citizen with rights. There are many instances in human society when we decide to take lives, often of innocent people. We choose sometimes to take the life of a murderer. I support capital punishment too. If I didn’t, I think I would really be contradicting my Pro-Choice stance. We choose sometimes to go to war, when collateral damage is done to children! And the soldiers whom we kill are heroes in their own culture and have parents, spouses and children who will mourn their deaths. Taking the life of even an enemy is always a gray area; it is never the good versus the bad however much violent video games would have our young soldiers-in-training believe.
It’s funny how liberals and conservatives each have their own instances when killing is good and okay and other instances when it is not. I’ve often pondered the conflict that must exist in the minds of Pro-Choice liberals who are also vegans.
I’m a carnivore–another kind of Pro-Choice in its own way–and I don’t think it’s all a-okay every time I sit down to a meal of roasted chicken. It’s always a little sad. I try not to eat too much meat, and my prayers of thanks at Thanksgiving are always sent to the turkey.
I think we all need to acknowledge that there is no easy way to make moral decisions. Morality doesn’t come from on high. There is no right and wrong on which to hang our hats. We are responsible for the decisions we make and often they are difficult. We have to learn to live with those difficulties and not try to sweep them under the carpet.
I’m a novelists, not a polemicist. That’s why I see and report both sides of the issues. Literature does not practice politics. It doesn’t have an agenda. What it does do is inspire people to think on their own and to come to their own decisions. Life is complicated and complex. Literature can help people realize this, and the fact that our society is so divided along party lines tells me that people just aren’t reading enough literature. (Now we get to my real motive, defending the one thing I really believe in.) People have not developed their pre-frontal cortex enough–which is what fiction does–I’m not kidding it really does, recent neuroscience tells us so. The pre-frontal cortex is part of the brain that helps us be more empathetic. That makes perfect sense as fiction can help you see someone else’s point of view. Also a good novel brings in all the complex context that goes into making decisions and shows how fraught with difficulty doing the right thing can be. Pro-Choice and Pro-Life need a bit more Pro-Empathy, Pro-Complex Thinking before either can be properly seated in our hearts and minds.