Jingo Killah

I am not a pacifist. I am Jingo Killah.

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We explore the eternal question: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

Another ‘midnight regluation’ from Bush – the granting of “Rights of Conscience” to medical workers allowing personal beliefs to preside over established procedure. Wow. Thanks to Chris Weignant for the reference. This story may blow up, may not. It captured my imagination right away, and I hope that this will play on Maddow, but with everything happening everywhere all at once, and this being a bit of Friday page 10 news between Christmas and New Year’s, it might be safe to assume that it’s buried and needs some blogosphere magic to un-bury it.

My take on it is a little more abstract – we of course know we’re on the battlefield of choice, women’s rights, religious rights, etc. But I think that “Rights of Conscience” falls into a sort of unworkable abstraction that can be haphazardly applied to dozens of contentious issues, all the way across the political spectrum. Medical workers are potentially being given this right, presumably because of the exceptionalism we bestow upon them as medical professionals. Doctors can prescribe and administer drugs, they can cut people open, they can stick certain things in various anatomical places. All these things are illegal (and possibly immoral) on the street. Thus, medical professionals confront a great number of moral issues along the way, and become part of morality plays, played out in real life.

The mediasphere is gonna focus right in on the one area where the transparent Bush administration intends to grant a specific empowerment. But also see the big picture, please. It’s a Pandora’s Box. If medical workers have an individual “Right of Conscience”, who else can claim it? And in what ways?

An example. Cops? They’re ‘exceptional’, cos they openly carry guns, and can enter your home, arrest and detain people, etc. We regular citizens can’t. (I’m not presenting the pejorative of this, just a starting point.) There are a great many ways a cop can practice a Right of Conscience – an individual belief that takes precedence over the system that employs him and grants him his exceptionalism, based on a secular moral code already in place. Again, to avoid the pejorative anti-cop quagmire, I’ll use a supposition that swings libertarian – suppose a cop selectively refused to enforce laws, cos they didn’t jibe with his personal beliefs. Would he be subject to discipline? Yes. Could he mount a defense saying “these laws don’t pass my moral filter, therefore I claim my Right of Conscience.” Well, is Pandora out of the box? And then, could you do this in the military? Could you do this in the school system? Could you do this in a government office or in the court system?

When you enter any of these exceptional domains officially, you are read a battery of riot acts that indicate the personal rights of the people you interact with. These texts comprise the moral and procedural code already in place for that domain. If you entered such a path with your own realized beliefs, at some early point you might discover a moral conflict. For example, a Christian scientist who wants to practice western medicine will probably be knocked off the path long before the Hippocratic oath is taken. (If, of course, she’s being honest.) You can be a conscientious objector if there’s a draft and they try to send you somewhere to fight a war. You have to demonstrate that at the outset of your employment, though. You can’t become a conscientious objector in a foxhole.

Of course, small acts of conscience happen all the time, within the gray areas of these jobs. The cop clocked me doing 73, but let me off with a warning. The teacher subverts the lesson plan to better match her beliefs. The government bureaucrat lets a piece of paperwork slide. The soldier decides not to shoot. The doctor creates a plan that’s for the good of the patient, but doesn’t provide full disclosure, cos she knows the patient will make the bad choice. Each of these exceptional people must know that if the spotlight were suddenly over them, they’d have to answer for these decisions. Suddenly, there’s a new legal catchall that allows every exceptional person to say “My God wanted me to do it / didn’t want me to do it.”

The law is the law, and activism is activism. They lean against one another, challenge and build each other, balancing the rights of man. However, blend them, and you have neither.

3 Responses to “rites of conscience”

  1. I think I missed my calling. I should have become a Mormon convenience store clerk. Collect a paycheck every two weeks but won’t sell you coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets or porn. Right of conscience, bitches!

    What is the functional difference, aside from the fact that medical people, you know, actually *save people’s lives* and *are responsible for people’s health*?

    Chris Lepore

  2. I felt that the licensed professions have far more moral boundaries and gray areas than other professions, and therefore have support systems, and moral systems, to persuade a practitioner to keep toeing some sort of legal/moral line. Regular jobs don’t often have this conundrum, though this Mormon convenience store clerk is in a pickle, isn’t she? She might have to go take the only other job available in her small town – cockfight referee.

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  3. I was working with chickens once. I was a cock-teaser at Roosterama! I used to enrage the bantams before the fights. …

    Chris Lepore

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