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When Religion Dictates Medicine

Most people don’t care what other people believe, so long as it doesn’t affect them–so long as it’s “no skin off my nose!”

But what about those times when other people’s beliefs ARE affecting you and you don’t even know it? Times when other people use their religious beliefs to decide what medical services will be available to you? Times when your nose is being skinned and you don’t even know it!

Stem cell research is one such case. The recent announcement that the government will now fund studies on stem cells from human embryos was the first many even heard of this new line of research–research believed to hold promise for fantastic medical breakthroughs for a huge variety of diseases and injuries. If results hold true, then everyone in the last twenty years who has suffered from any of the ailments whose treatment could have been helped by fetal tissue research and now stem cell research has had their noses skinned right down to the bone!

The reason? Religion! Despite the fact that an estimated 30-50 percent of conceptions are aborted spontaneously, opponents of abortion sanctimoniously proclaim that each fertilized egg is sacred and not to be tampered with. President Reagan bowed to their demands in the 80’s, banning government research using fetal tissue discarded from induced abortions. Ironically, research on Alzheimer’s, a disease soon to overtake Reagan himself, was set back years by this decision.

Now we have stem cells, the part of the embryo that scientists believe can miraculously develop into muscle, nerve, heart, blood and other cells. The medical possibilities include the creation of replacement tissue and even entire organs. Stem cells may eventually be used to repair injured or poorly functioning brains and nervous systems. New treatments may be developed for a wide range of injuries, disorders and diseases–broken bones, severe burns, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, brain damage due to oxygen starvation, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and strokes. Even AIDS.

But abortion opponents have been holding up this research, saying their concept of “sanctity of life” should prevail. Even though the embryos used are donated as excess from fertility procedures and would otherwise be destroyed, they see using them to save lives as somehow violating their religious sensibilities.

This “sanctity of life” concept could also affect Americans by denying them the right to determine their own destiny in the event of terminal illness. Oregon has passed a law that allows dying persons to end an agonizing death and die peacefully by requesting prescriptions from doctors. This has been bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church and Right-to-life groups. They are now asking Congress to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to include harsh prison sentences for any doctors who prescribe such drugs, even though state law may permit it. An unintended effect is that doctors will be reluctant to prescribe adequate pain-relief for dying patients for fear of having their intentions misunderstood.– Already passed by the U.S. House, this bill only needs approval by the Senate and the President before controlling your life.

Religion plays an increasing role in deciding health care in our nation, as the Catholic health care system becomes the largest private-sector health care provider in the country with 620 hospitals and 48 of the country’s managed care plans. From 1994 to 1999, 132 mergers took place between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals with many of the merged hospitals eliminating some or all reproductive health services. Catholic hospitals are regulated by the Ethical and Religious Directives which denies services such as birth control, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and abortions. Many people feel that since Catholic hospitals receive government funding and are often the sole provider in a community, they should be required to be full-service hospitals offering these services.

Religions that believe they alone possess moral truth are a danger to our democracy when they gain control of government. If “freedom of religion” is to mean anything to Americans, it has to include freedom FROM other people’s religions.