Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The conscientious approach

On November 2nd, 2011, the Michigan Senate passed a bill they called 'Matt's Safe School Law,' which outlined general procedures that schools had to undertake to implement anti-bullying procedures, and which included a gem of a caveat that made the entire bill not only moot toward the goal of decreasing bullying, but expressly complicit in its propagation:
(8) This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the constitution of the United States or under article I of the state constitution of 1963 of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian. This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.
That same day, the bill was received by the House, was referred to the Committee on Education, and quickly proceeded to go die in a hole in that committee.

The bill stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its passage, and for good reason of course: permitting bullying on religious grounds is dangerous to students and antithetical to anti-bullying measurers.  This disgusting appeal to 'moral conviction' - a conviction of the type any such actions would certainly not be - was 'smoothed over' as part of a 'compromise' between Republicans and Democrats in the House version of the bill, HB 4163 (which eventually became law).  In actuality what happened was the text was completely excised, and any suggestion that this could ever have been a point of compromise implicitly allows the possibility that such text is OK in our law, and that will. not. do.

In what can only be described as ineffable belligerence to the public's outrage in late 2011 over that bill's close allowance for a cop-out for bullies by religious 'freedom,' the Senate is prepared to pass yet again a bill that would permit any health care provider or health care payer (see the bill for a working definition) to assert a matter of 'conscience' or religious objection to any health care service that they very well please, excluding in some cases:

for any health care payer:  
- health care services that have already been administered
for any health care provider:
- health care services deemed 'regular' or a 'substantial portion' of normal course of duties for their position
- health care services for which they are expressly contracted to perform (so, you can't just get a job at an abortion clinic and obstruct its operations by claiming an objection - you got the job for that purpose)
- health care services deemed necessary by an attending physician to avoid permanent physical harm
- health care services required to respond to a public health emergency
- health care services for which there are no other health care providers available to perform, but only in the first instance if the request for accommodation was made at the same time a patient needed the service
- situations where the request is made in the presence of a patient that needs the care (which is an extraordinary statement toward the apathy this bill has for patients, who have not a vested interest in being convenienced by the knowledge that their attendees are hunky-dory with their treatments, but rather in not being inconvenienced to receive that treatment in the first place).
This is just vague enough to work.  There is no specification in the bill as to what qualifies as 'regular' practice for a job position - is it once a week?  Twice a week?  Once a day?  Who determines that, the employer or the government?

There is virtually no limit on health care services that a health care payer may object to - this, above all else, most obviously flies in the face of the birth control requirement from the ACA, which only has lenience for expressly religious employers.  The challenges this law will face in court if it is passed could very well end up costing our state a great deal of money, just to have these sections struck down as subordinate to federal law.

Perhaps even more dangerously, an employer may refuse to contract a health payment plan that pays for blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses will sure love this), or stemcell treatments, or perhaps organ transplants or skin grafts or hormonal treatments or vaccines or various forms of abortions, and so on so long as they can find a religious justification for their desires.  I of course have to allow the complaint that there aren't any insurance plans that would expressly disallow these types of procedures - maybe except for minimal coverage cases intended to be used by those not inclined or able to spend a lot of money, I would indeed sure hope that such exclusive plans are not offered to be contracted, because like with the bullying example it's antithetical to the very goal of health care.

Astoundingly enough too, the supposedly pro-business backers of this bill (I only base this off of their party affiliations) included clauses that disallowed employers from screening prospective employees on whether they would claim objection of conscience in situations, and also from 'discriminating' against employees that claimed objection of conscience.  Excuse me, but I'm still a student and have not been a worker for very long periods of time; have I had this idea all wrong?  Maybe I have been lied to all of this time, that for every other single occupation on the face of the planet (barring perhaps politics, which is unsurprisingly the landfill from which this trash legislation originated), if you do not perform the duties of your job, you are fired.  Yes, the story has been told to me in so few words.

The echoes of the senate of 2011 ring very strongly in this bill.  The old 'Matt's Safe School Law' draft pushed first in the Senate had the common courtesy to see itself out the door.  If there is a modicom of sanity in the Michigan House (perhaps even in the Senate, since the bill has not technically been voted out of it yet!), this one will quickly follow suit.  Our state cannot afford such another disgrace as this bill, and it surely will not be disgraced under the banner of moral - and ack, religious - 'conscience.'

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