Thursday, January 2, 2014

Between a Woman and Her Doctor

An historian's artistic rendering of the 4th Lateran Council. 
G.K. Chesterton famously observed in Orthodoxy that when he came finally to look critically at Christianity in light of so many charges leveled against it by so many of its critics, he realized that "[i]t looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with."

This insight comes back to me frequently nowadays in internet debates (especially on social media), where it seems that for every authentic representation of a particular Church figure or a particular Church teaching there abound besides legion straw-men and bogies, such that in the end finding the Truth becomes like an ideological "Where's Waldo."

Among the more annoying convenient cudgels exploited by moderns who would denigrate or challenge the Church specifically in the matter of Her teaching on birth control (and I give benefit of the doubt that ignorance prevails in many of these cases rather than malice) is the canard about the Church "coming between a woman and her doctor."



Now there's a multitude of problems that I have with this particular argument, and as this (attached, of course, to the Church's presumed problem of misogyny generally) came up in a recent debate online, I decided I'd make a few observations about it.

Believe It Or Not, Not All Religious Persons' Reasons are "Religious Reasons"

Even worse than this... that bad.
Again and again in debates about the Church's position on artificial contraception you'll hear it argued that Church folk have every right to believe what they believe but they don't have a right to force that belief upon others. More bluntly, you'll hear it argued that while it may be all well and good for Mrs. Churchmouse to choose for herself not to take birth control, the Church shouldn't come between a woman and her doctor and deny her birth control for religious reasons.

But here's the problem: not all of the "reasons" the Church uses in Her reasoning are "religious reasons," nor are all of the reasons employed by members of the Church who adhere to Her doctrines. In short, a Catholic doctor might not wish to prescribe birth control not because he thinks it bad (although, presuming he is a good Catholic, he does think it's bad) but just as much because he thinks it bad medicine. He might recognize, for example, the links between hormonal oral contraceptives and the risks of various cancers, from cervical to breast cancer. He might recognize that these risks which result from the chemical elements at play are further exacerbated by lifestyle factors which also induce greater risk (such as, for example with breast cancer, delay of a woman's first pregnancy).

Now, bring these things up in argument, and you're not out of the woods yet - ooooh, no, you aren't. Especially when you mention the last parenthetical tidbit there re: breast cancer and pregnancy age, you'll probably run into accusations of your personal misogyny (as one interlocutor once put it colorfully, of seeing women as nothing more than "brood mares"). I beg you, be like me: be cool with that. The thing is, we have to be cool with that in order to keep the argument on track and emphasize the primary point at this juncture: leaving aside whatever ways those reasons might offend, the point is that they are not religious reasons. [Even then, you're not out of the woods quite, though - because *poof* everybody's a friggin' doctor now.]


Wrestle them back to the home court, and keep on at it: even if they are wrong medical reasons, the point is that the origin of these kinds of reasons for the doctor do not derive from belief, from the tenets of faith, but from his or her reasoning about medical science.

No, Beyonce: Not All the Single Ladies. Go Home, You're Drunk.

In addition to doctors who could reason in such a way, would you believe that there may be - in fact, there are - women who reason this way? Yes, believe it or not, there are indeed women who deliberately seek out Catholic doctors and Catholic healthcare plans and providers and even Catholic employers so as to live their lives in keeping with the teachings of the Church.

Yet nuns are less comprehensible in our culture somehow.
See, these women might decide - either for their own personal reasons, for reasons of faith or privacy, or reasons arrived at in consultation with their trusted physician - not to elect a certain course of treatment or care for X indication. And so they've sought out care they know they can trust. They don't want to worry the insurance will force the doctor's hand, perhaps with threats to refuse or delay payment for a later potentially needed procedure, unless what they deem are the "proper protocols" have first been followed. So, the question is: do they have that right not to worry? Or now, may the insurance, perhaps the Government-plan insurance, insinuate itself between the woman and her doctor? Between her and her doctor deliberately chosen and trusted on the basis of his medical knowledge and expertise which happens to coincide with the Church's moral teachings? Remember above all: her reasons for trusting the doctor are her own and may not (just as we saw above with doctors) be wholly religious at all. Yet somehow when the shoe is on the other foot this way, the will to keep outside forces (like Big Pharm Bought-and-Paid-for Politicians) from getting between a woman and her doctor is suddenly diminished. What's that all about?

F'realz. They don't.
I'll tell you what it's about: it's about the refusal of the Church's naysayers and critics to critique themselves. Perhaps there is no secular wisdom equivalent to the Gospel teaching that you should "remove first the plank from your own eye," but it's good advice and they may want to take it. See, at the end of the day, these anti-dogmatists can be frightfully dogmatic themselves. And one of the worst tenets dogmatically and assiduously held by those who constantly clamor about the spectre of the Church getting between a woman and her doctor is the presumption that they speak for all women. When, in plain fact, they don't.

Not all women subscribe to the sexual revolution. Not all women see the Church as a patriarchal and misogynistic historical construct, but as the living and matronly Bride of Christ who is of one flesh with Him... and they think that's pretty groovy. Not all women believe that taxpayers should have to pay for what is construed as a woman's choice to abort the living viable embryonic human being growing inside of her. In short, not all women see a dichotomy in the Church coming between her and her doctor when they actually believe that the her and her doctor are in the Church. They exist, these ladies. I know them. That's how they roll, and that's why they rock.

#Progress. #DownWithPatriarchy.
But perhaps in the final assessment there's no coming to terms in such a debate when one side admits to being dogmatic but also reasons thoroughly and the other reasons very shallowly and denies their even more restrictive dogmas. Nevertheless, I'm determined to try to burn down as many strawmen as these critics of the Church will build while seeking as often as possible to transfer the burden of proof to my opponents. I will not submit the Church to being on trial. Let's have this as a civil suit (in all the valences of that term) and let's make it clear that if the Church is charged with misogyny, we Her children are counter-suing our culture on that point and leveling back at it the same charge: It is the forces of radical feminism, corporate greed and consumerism, absolute individualism, servile statism, and a host of other bourgeois fetishes - and not the Church - which are misogynistic.

Those blinded by ideology and dogma and no longer reasoning in a universally accessible way are... well, those who pilfer piffle like the thesis that "all heterosexual sex is misogyny." (No, really.) Okay, to be fair, the author of the essay expounding the theory actually specifies she's talking about "PIV" heterosexual sex. I won't translate the acronym. You can click the link to find out. Or, well, I could simply say that Catholics have a name for it, too: and that is just "sex."

But perhaps such blindness is the just deserts of a thoroughly pagan culture. And perhaps the only witness that can ever break through such blindness, in such a culture, is the witness of martyrdom. I began this venting my frustrations at the bleeding-heart dramatics of those who yell about the Church coming between a woman and her doctor. Of course, ultimately, that's all hysterics and show and #firstworldproblems, an imagined veil over an insidious underlying ideology and agenda. But deadly serious, on the other hand - and worth praying about and contemplating - is a spectacle we've seen plenty throughout history, which is all too real (although it also veils an underlying Reality) - and that is what can come to pass when anybody tries to get between a woman and her Church.

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