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Today’s Republican Party, Rick Santorum, and shades of gray.

24 February 2012

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Observing the slow motion train wreck that is the Republican primary campaign is saddening. The GOP was once a party that had something useful to contribute to the public debate. Even if you disagreed with their platform, it was still possible to acknowledge a reasonableness in their point of view. I’m thinking here of notable Republicans like Dwight D Eisenhower. or Gerald Ford. The Republican Party of today though is trying to address the great challenges America faces with an incoherent swamp of positions that are as irrational as they are inflexible. Thinking of the divisive issues that are challenging our country, I don’t see where the Republican candidates are offering realistic answers to any of them.

Take the abortion debate for instance. I would describe myself as pro-life. I believe that the fetus is not a mere appendage to the pregnant woman, but is a living being with a capacity to develop and grow into a unique personality. As such the fetus exists as a result of the creative act of God. Each has never been before and will never be repeated. Each one unique and irreplaceable. Each created in the image and likeness of God. This means that there is a dignity which is due to each human person. I find it impossible to  accept the legitimacy of extremes such as partial birth abortions or abortions performed merely for convenience. I can recognize though, that there is some gray area as well. Where the life of the mother is at stake, such as would be the case in an ectopic pregnancy or a hysterectomy for a cancerous uterus. These are cases where the surgical procedure to save the life of the mother would tragically result in the death of the unborn child without that being the intent of the medical intervention that takes place. Applying our moral principles to concrete situations can have it’s complications.

A recent article by Jonathan Cohn, in The New Republic, highlights just how complicated applying principles to real life situations can be. He was writing about how it is sometimes applied in Roman Catholic hospitals. Here is an excerpt:

 “The hospital did not perform elective abortions, which is typical for small conservative communities. But the obstetricians were accustomed to terminating pregnancies in the event of medical emergencies. And just such a case presented itself one November morning, when a woman, 15 weeks pregnant, arrived at the emergency room in the middle of a miscarriage. According to a deposition later obtained by The Washington Post, the woman had been carrying twins and passed the first fetus at home in the bathtub. When she arrived via ambulance, she was stable and not bleeding. But the umbilical cord from the first fetus was coming out of her vagina, while the second fetus was still in her uterus.

Robert Holder, the physician on duty who gave the deposition, said the odds of saving the second fetus were miniscule. Doctors would need to tie off the umbilical cord and put the woman at severe risk of infection. After discussing the options, the family, with some difficulty, opted for a medical termination. But, under the new rules, Holder had to get approval from a nurse manager and eventually a more senior administrator. When Holder briefed the administrator, she asked whether the fetus had a heartbeat. It did, he said. “She replied that I had to send the patient out for treatment,” Holder later recalled. He arranged for the woman to get the procedure at the nearest major medical institution—in Tucson. According to his account, the 90-minute trip put her at risk of hemorrhaging and infection, which did not happen, and “significant emotional distress,” which did.

Holder said that an official from Ascension Health, which oversees Carondelet, told him earlier that the rules permit terminating a pregnancy when a spontaneous abortion seems inevitable. (Officials from Ascension and Sierra Vista were not available for comment.) But Bruce Silva, another obstetrician on staff and an early skeptic of the merger, told me that confusion over the rules was common. “We couldn’t get a straight answer,” Silva says. “There was so much gray area. And sometimes you need to make these decisions quickly, for medical reasons.” Even when the new rules were clear, Silva adds, they sometimes prevented physicians from following their best clinical judgments, not to mention their patients’ wishes. A prohibition on tubal ligations, a surgical form of sterilization that severs or blocks the fallopian tubes, meant women had to go elsewhere for this procedure. However, physicians routinely perform this operation as part of a cesarean section, either when patients have requested the procedure or when it’s medically recommended, in order to avoid a second invasive surgery and the attendant medical risks. “I had a patient who was blind. She and her husband were working but poor, and she was diabetic, too,” Silva told me. “She was having her second baby, and that’s all she wanted and she’s got these medical issues. She asked for a tubal ligation. And I can’t do it.”

Whether it be abortion, or any other moral choice, applying our moral principles to real life situations is often times very difficult work. People of good conscience may reach different conclusions as they, with the best of intent, try to decide how to make tough moral choices. When I talk with someone who has had an abortion themselves, and that has happened, my first reaction is not to condemn them for it. I am not their judge, and I don’t always know all the details that might have contributed to what I believe must be a painful decision.

Sometimes an issue can be black and white, but not always. There are quite a number of people out there  that do not seem capable of evr seeing any gray. For them it’s all black and white all the time. The Republican Party of today seems to be filled with people who are incapable of seeing anything but black and white on this or any other issue. Are they really as simple minded as they seem? Or is it just Kabuki theater, artifice, fakery, insincerity, – something done only for show? Do they  know better, and are just playing lip service to these sentiments for the sake of the votes they hope to get from simple minded people? Or are they really as disconnected from the real world as they seem?

Here is another excerpt from the same article:

“Probably the most notorious incident occurred in 2009, when a 27-year-old woman with “right heart failure” came to the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, while eleven weeks pregnant. Physicians concluded that, if she continued with the pregnancy, her chances of mortality were “close to 100 percent.” An administrator, Sister Margaret McBride, approved an abortion, citing a church directive allowing termination when the mother’s life is at risk. Afterward, however, the local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, said the abortion had not been absolutely necessary. He excommunicated the nun and severed ties with the hospital, although the nun subsequently won reinstatement when she agreed to confess her sin to a priest.”

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has been making numerous comments revealing himself as someone who thinks in these kind of absolutist categories. The idea of a rigid ideologue like that in the oval office is very troubling to me. It troubles me because it reveals an individual that is not fully in touch with how life is lived out in the real world. He wants every thing to be simple. But the simple fact is that many of the choices we have to make are not simple.

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