St. Francis of Assisi Day

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A Prayer for Animals (attributed to Albert Schweitzer):
Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;

for animals that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated;

for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars;

for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;

for all that must be put death.

We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.

Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals, and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

My friend Anne found this lovely service when I complained about the abundantly masculine pronouns in this service. Since it’s too late to use either of those resources in church yesterday, here are a very few practical ways to commemorate the feast: (1) Remember the hard-working, financially struggling Bill Foundation; or (2) the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund, caring for orphans of the bushmeat trade; or (3) the House Rabbit Society folks, who care for more abandoned and abused “pet” rabbits than you ever knew existed. (Eventually I’ll tell you more about how I learned of their wonderful work.) (If you like that Francis image by Robert Lentz, see some of his other icons at Bridge Building Images. Update: I fixed that link.)

Read Ellen Goodman this week —
Here’s her column, via The Revealer:

Religion as doctor? Welcome to faith-based medicine

When I was a kid I just assumed the separation of church and hospital. It’s not that I didn’t believe in the power of prayer, but when my appendix burst I wanted a guy in a white coat, not a white collar.

The first time I realized how different things were in the Bush era was when W. David Hager was appointed to an advisory board of the Food and Drug Administration. Hager was an ob-gyn who prescribed Corinthians and Romans for PMS. After that we saw the government take contraceptive information off one Web site and put phony links between abortion and breast cancer on another. That was just the beginning.

Welcome to the era of faith-based medicine.

The administration has just announced that, for the first time ever, federal employees will be offered a Catholic health plan. Starting in November, workers in 31 Illinois counties can enroll in a plan created explicitly according to Catholic tenets and marketed as “faith-based.”

This plan is noted most for the things that it doesn’t provide: Abortion, of course, even in the case of rape. Contraception, including emergency contraception. Sterilization. Artificial insemination and most other fertility treatments.

We don’t know yet what the faith-based health plan will do about paying for other treatments that might challenge Catholic teachings. Will end-of-life care be determined by the patient or the latest directive from Rome?

This plan is defended as a “choice.” If you don’t want it, don’t choose it. But if this is an opening wedge, choice may not be so simple, especially in the 100 counties across the country where Catholic hospitals are the sole providers.

It’s no surprise that the first faith-based plan is Catholic since 11 percent of all hospitals are run by Catholics. Many provide the exact same services as their secular counterparts, but the church has long led the fight against abortion and also against state laws that mandate contraceptive coverage. At last count, only 28 percent of their 600 emergency rooms offered emergency contraception to rape victims.

But this health care “first” is only a piece of the growing story of faith-based medicine. Another piece is in the “conscience clauses” being pushed to let health care workers and whole institutions opt out of providing health care, especially reproductive care, on religious grounds.

Just this month, the House of Representatives passed a provision that protects employees and hospitals from laws requiring them to provide abortions or even abortion referrals. Last July, Mississippi joined Arkansas and South Dakota in giving health care workers and institutions the right to refuse performing any medical service on moral or religious grounds. Meanwhile we have pharmacists lobbying to refuse handing over emergency contraceptives as if the drugstore were their personal chapel.

Well, I have no problem with a “conscience clause” for an individual. No health care worker should perform a medical procedure against his beliefs. How would you like a doctor who opposes sterilization performing your vasectomy?

But how do you define an institution’s conscience? Is it the collective belief of the doctors, the employees, the patients? Or is it an edict of the bishops?

And while we are talking about faith-based medicine, since when is a hospital or a health care plan a religion? This year the California Supreme Court ruled that Catholic Charities of Sacramento had to provide its employees with birth control coverage because the charity didn’t just serve or employ Catholics. Well, neither does a hospital.

As Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice says, “All health care institutions receive most of their money from the government. If they want to be truly private, they wouldn’t take Medicare or Medicaid. Then they could be run like a Christian Science Reading Room.”

We used to talk about doctors playing God. Now religion is playing doctor. What happens when the church defines medicine and the government gives it a religious seal of approval?

Will there be a sign on the emergency room door warning that this hospital does not remove feeding tubes? Will a young woman even be told that she can have her eggs harvested before chemo for later use? Will an AIDS patient be advised about condoms?

“Can you imagine if Jehovah’s Witnesses opened a hospital, got funding, and then said oh, by the way, we don’t do transfusions?” asks Susan Berke Fogel, who co-chairs the American Bar Association’s ethics committee. What if a Jewish hospital insisted on circumcising all boys, she adds provocatively. Would that too be approved as faith-based medicine?

At some point doesn’t religious practice become medical malpractice? We can only pray.

(Now have a look at this cartoon.)

No attendance pins for Bush —
Amy Sullivan is right (via Kevin Drum): The fact that Bush doesn’t attend church wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Rovians didn’t make an even bigger deal about how Republicans allegedly attend church more often than Democrats (a fact which, as I explained in a much earlier post, can be disputed on survey methodology grounds; I’ll try to find that post and update this link).

Remember all those checks and balances we learned about in civics? —
Things aren’t working very well:

“There is no legislative process anymore,” said Fred Wertheimer, the legendary open-government activist who has been monitoring Congress since 1963. “Bills are decided in advance of going to the floor.”

Republicans counter that Democrats, too, used their power to get their way when they were in the majority, and Democrats acknowledge that they sometimes used procedures to their advantage. It was the Democrats, for example, who changed the makeup of the Rules Committee to give disproportionate clout to the majority party.

But longtime Congress-watchers say they have never seen the legislative process so closed to input from minority-party members, the public, and lobbyists whose agenda is unsympathetic to GOP leadership goals.

Interviews with scores of lawmakers, lobbyists, and citizen activists reflect a growing frustration with what has become a closed shop in Washington. Among the Globe’s findings:

+The House Rules Committee, which is meant to tweak the language in bills that come out of committee, sometimes rewrites key passages of legislation approved by other committees, then forbids members from changing the bills on the floor. Only five times this year were House members allowed to amend policy bills on the floor, and only 15 percent of bills this year were open to amendment. For the entire 108th Congress, just 28 percent of total bills have been open to amendment — barely more than half of what Democrats allowed in their last session in power in 1993-94. Further, the Rules Committee has blocked floor votes on legislation opposed by the Bush administration but supported by a majority of the House. For example, a bill to extend benefits to the long-term unemployed has been kept off the House floor despite what backers say is the support of a bipartisan majority.

+The Rules Committee commonly holds sessions late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, earning the nickname “the Dracula Congress” by critical Democrats and keeping some lawmakers quite literally in the dark about the legislation put before them. On the Patient’s Bill of Rights legislation in 2001, for example, the Rules Committee made a one-word change in the middle of the night that drastically limited the liability of HMOs that deny coverage to their patients. The measure was hustled through the House hours later, with few lawmakers aware of the change.

+Congressional conference committees, charged with reconciling differences between House- and Senate-passed versions of the same legislation, have become dramatically more powerful in shaping bills. The panels, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 “pork barrel” projects to appropriations bills for this year’s federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

+Bills are increasingly crafted behind closed doors, and on two major pieces of legislation — the Medicare and energy bills — few Democrats were allowed into the critical conference committee meetings, sessions that historically have been bipartisan. The energy bill — a sweeping package meant to lay out a national energy policy — started in closed-door meetings held by Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force and was written in private sessions on Capitol Hill that excluded all Democrats. On the Medicare negotiations, only two Democrats — both already supportive of the bill — were included.

+The amount of time spent openly debating bills has dropped dramatically, and lawmakers are further hamstrung by an abbreviated schedule that gives them little time to fully examine a bill before voting on it. The House typically holds no votes until Tuesday evenings — and then usually on noncontroversial items such as the renaming of post offices — then adjourns for the week by Thursday afternoon. The Iraq war resolution was debated just two days in 2002; the defense authorization bill, which customarily undergoes weeks of floor discussion, was debated and voted on this year in two days.

Lawmakers say they are still finding items in the Medicare package that passed last winter that they find objectionable, such as the financial penalty on seniors who wait to sign up for the Medicare prescription drug plan.

“There was no way that every member of Congress could hold up their right hand and say, `I read every page of that bill before the vote,’ ” said Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, noting that members had just one day to examine the 400-plus-page bill before voting on a law that would change health-care allotments across the country.

+The dearth of debate and open dealing in the House has given a crucial advantage to a select group of industry lobbyists who are personally close to decision-makers in Congress. A Globe study of lobbying showed that on the Medicare and energy bills, businesses and other groups who reported lobbying on the two measures spent a staggering $799,091,391 in efforts to influence lawmakers, frequently employing former members of Congress, former staff members, and relatives of lawmakers to lobby on the bills.

There’s a lot more, and this is part 1 of a 3-part series. I’ll try to remember to add the other links.

Bush lost Chafee —
Another GOP turncoat.


One thought on “St. Francis of Assisi Day

Add yours

  1. Good material today! One can’t be reminded of St. Francis too often. Ellen Goodman’s column describes one of those situations that makes you crazy — I just want to scream about these policies that are so anti-woman. But I liked the Amy Sullivan piece the best: no one will ever convince me that you can be a Christian by yourself. Participation in the community is constitutive of what it means to be a Christian, in my view. I think some wise person once wrote that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. I attended worship at Foundry United Methodist Church when I was in DC during the Clinton years, and there was no inconvenience whatsoever. It’s harder to get on an airplane now, and it was then, than it was to go to church. I just don’t buy the arguments.

    Anyway, thanks for a great day of reading and the thoughts that it sparked! AC

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