August 2, 2015

Medical Progress? It's in the Eye of the Beholder

We have seen the degradation of protections for legal abortion services over the years; states have used a number of methods to make it harder for women to get an abortion or or for an abortion clinic to operate, including regulations on the temperature of rooms at clinics, requiring providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals to 'protect' the women, requiring other, usually unnecessary medical procedures, long waiting periods, multiple visits to clinics, and so on. And, anti-abortion protesters who pester women entering the clinics have been given wide latitude to 'educate' clinic patients on the error of their ways, regardless of what services they're aiming to receive.

As a century-old organization providing health care services, including  gynecological exams and mammographies, testing and counseling for STDs and yes, the country's largest provider of abortion services, Planned Parenthood is among the favorite targets of the benevolent lobbyists and legislators who aim to protect us women.  Things are about to get a whole lot worse, if the pro-birth extremists in Congress have their way, after a series of carefully edited videos (at least three so far) were released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a 501(c)3 organization which self-describes as
...a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances. We are concerned about contemporary bioethical issues that impact human dignity, and we oppose interventions, procedures, and experiments that exploit the unequal legal status of human beings. We envision a world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature and do not destroy, disfigure or work against them. 
The organization calls for defunding Planned Parenthood as the solution to these ethical issues. Under current law, it is illegal to use federal funds for abortion services, and Planned Parenthood does not receive any federal funding for those services.

The videos admittedly paint an unflattering picture of certain Planned Parenthood officials, for which the head of the organization has apologized, and will continue to apologize. They also paint a cold picture of the whole process by which organs and tissue are harvested, something that even supporters of fetal tissue donation, including me, don't necessarily want to think about or discuss.

If you check the CMP website, you'll find links to the undercover videos, as well as links to a lot of information related to 'selling baby parts' which is a carefully chosen, inflammatory and very ugly way of talking about the very legal practice of procuring fetal tissue for use in research. (Under federal law, fetal tissue can be donated, and the costs of procuring the tissue, preserving it, and getting the samples into the hands of researchers can be recovered. There are restrictions, of course -- selling the tissue, harvesting it from fetuses which were conceived expressly for the purpose of harvesting the tissue, or for a donation to a family member or other specified person. Planned Parenthood does none of these things.)

What you won't find on their website are undercover videos of citizen journalists speaking with medical professionals about things like this:
  • coldly and matter-of-factly harvesting organs, such as hearts and eyes and lungs and livers and kidneys and skin and bones for transplantation or research by drug companies or universities, even when the deceased patient has never discussed organ donation with anyone
  • callously hooking patients up to machines, artificially keeping them alive for days, weeks, months, or years, including people who show no brain activity, because their family (or the government) thinks this is in the patient's best interest (again, when the patient is incapable of consenting)
  • brutally freezing egg and embryos for some off-in-the-future implantation, custody case, or destruction or donation if the embryos are not used
  • withholding game-changing medical treatment, such as medical marijuana, from innocent children suffering from seizures, or other patients who would benefit from treatment

I don't think I have to go too far out on a limb here to guess that the "unequal legal status of human beings" the CMP talks about points to a belief that a fetus, at any stage, has the same 'rights' as we do. "Contemporary bioethical issues" apparently refers to using fetal tissue in research, and a "world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature" means, quite simply, a world without abortion.

It does not mean a world where the ethics of practices such as those I describe above are covertly examined over cocktails and dinner via hidden camera videos, because that would be unnecessary. There's nothing ethically challenging about any of those things, right?

It does not mean a world where the government stays out of frequently painful and heartbreaking medical decisions, where the wishes of the patient, their representatives and their doctors take precedence over some bureaucrat or legislator sitting in an office somewhere. We all know, of course, that those pesky bureaucrats (and legislators who voted for the Affordable Care Act) are the bane of existence for the ACA's many detractors.

And it certainly does not mean a world where all women, regardless of income, ethnicity, or place of residence, have equal access to potentially life-saving health care services, including those offered by Planned Parenthood.

You can call it 'medical progress' if you like, but to me it would only be true progress if the same rules were applied across the board. Accordingly, I ask you to join me in calling on our elected representatives to demand for the immediate defunding of all medical facilities that offer any of the same health care services as are offered by Planned Parenthood.

Maybe then we'll see who really thinks this is 'medical progress.'