Originally posted by LittleBill on Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Susan McCarthy is co-author of the New York Times bestseller "When Elephants Weep" (Delacorte, 1995) and author of "Becoming a Tiger" (HarperCollins, 2004). She is writing a book about reading the Bible as an atheist.
When you really have to denounce something, religion has the best vocabulary. Though I'm an atheist, I need to borrow that vocabulary, in order to talk clearly about the policy of refusing medical treatment to newborn babies whose parents are here illegally.
These babies are Americans, because they were born in the United States, but even if they weren't, they're babies, for crying out loud. They just got here, and each one is the definition of guiltlessness -- "as innocent as a newborn babe."
I'll start by using ordinary language to describe this policy. Under new instructions from the Bush administration on how to interpret the Deficit Reduction Act, before these babies can be treated, a Medicaid application must be submitted and approved. Sometimes that takes months, and there is to be no medical treatment for these infants until then. If their parents are trying to keep a low profile so they won't be deported, maybe the application won't be made at all.
The Deficit Reduction Act was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Nathan Deal and the late Charlie Norwood, Republicans of Georgia. Norwood said it was intended "to stop the theft of Medicaid benefits by illegal aliens."
The act doesn't mention babies, but last November unnamed administration officials said that their reading of the law mandates that applicants have to prove they're U.S. citizens before they can get Medicaid -- yes, even newborn citizens.
The object of the act is to punish illegal immigration. The way it is done is to endanger babies. Their mothers, though aliens, can get Medicaid on a temporary, emergency basis for delivery and post-natal care (for a year), but their American babies need to prove they're Americans before they can get benefits for things such as shots and eye drops. Even though the hospital just saw them born in America, a Medicaid application must be approved before the hospital can provide care. Unless the hospital would like to lose funding.
Anti-immigration commentators, such as Lou Dobbs, refer to the American-born children of aliens as "anchor babies," and view them as the tools of scheming invaders. They don't want the babies to get citizenship at all. In the meantime, apparently, no health care will teach them a lesson.
The Boston Globe says this is misguided, and the New York Times says it is harsh, dismal, pointless, cruel, paranoid and a sorry example of self-defeating spite. That's fairly strong language. But I think it goes beyond spite. I think it is a sin.
A sin, my OED says, is an "act which is regarded as a transgression of the divine law and an offence against God; a violation (esp. willful or deliberate) of some religious or moral principle." To refuse medical care to babies to make a point about where the administration stands -- or claims to stand -- on illegal immigration is, I believe, a sin. It is so clearly and brilliantly wrong, so shamelessly wicked, so flagrantly unfair, that sinful is the truest word to describe it.
I don't think our recognition of sin can only spring from religious belief. Atheists also believe in moral principles, which are violated by acts like these. I don't need religion to condemn inhumanity.
But pronouncing a secular anathema just isn't as impressive as pronouncing an anathema that has a god or gods and a church behind it. If you don't believe in demons, your exorcisms are going to be disappointingly nonspecific.
So I envy religion's vocabulary and imagery. The government officials who promulgated this policy, who have so far managed to remain unnamed -- I would like to use religious imagery when I speak of them. I would like to describe them burning in a fiery lake in hell. I would like to describe myself driving an ice-water truck along the shores of that lake, ringing my chimes merrily. I would like to describe the way, when those tormented officials plead for my ice water, I wave and shout, "Submit an application!"
Must have something to do with the more primitive times in our collective past, that makes us to lash against those whom are the least able to voice their objections. The most voiceless still are the poor, the old and the young. Of course, you can also include the women in many societies to this list. However, I find it very disturbing that the medical doctors would go against their Hippocratic oath, unless, it has turned out to be just another hypocritical piece of paper.
I'm with you, Pekka. This was all about babies and citizenship, of course, but your mention of the Hippocratic Oath brings to mind that I feel that people who are dying and in great pain and/or mental distress and want to leave this earth should be able to seek and receive the help of a physician.
There was this suggestion in your comment about a want to leave this earth. Indeed, it is not just repairing the damaged ones but it should also be to ease off the departures of those for whom the other options have come to their dead ends(no pun attempted). That we are not still there is a shame.