TruLuv: Faith-Based Embryos
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Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 02:54:54 AM EST
Ideas wriggle their way out of me in stories some days.  I especially love the theatrical format. Like joel pelletier, I turn to art to reach deeper into the comedy and drama that is human life. Last fall, I was especially pleased by the positive audience response to a simple comic addition I wrote for Words of Choice. Called Tru Luv, it's about a girl who musters the courage to tell her doting parents that she has fallen in love. Her parents simply cannot hide their disapproval when she announces the object of her desire: she has fallen in love with a stem cell. Audiences readily grasp the absurdity-- no matter how much the religious right equates an embryo or pre-embryo to a walking talking person, it's simply not the same. But now I see that I've not been thinking big enough. After all, the federal government just granted over a quarter million dollars to the Christian Medical and Dental Association to encourage people to love their embryos.
The Christian Medical and Dental Association, as I describe below, acts as a front for legitimizing religious right policies. Now, along with grant partner Baptist Health System Foundation in Knoxville, Tenn., CMDA received $309,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an "embryo adoption awareness grant." (I wonder if Tru Luv would qualify? It has an awareness angle.)

The grant will support the National Embryo Donation Center:  

When couples go through fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, there are usually an excess of fertilized eggs (embryos) that are cryopreserved - frozen and stored for later use.

It is estimated that 400,000 human embryos are currently in cryopreservation in the United States. When the genetic parents decide that their family is complete and embryos are still available, they are faced with a dilemma: donating their embryos to research, thawing them and letting them die, or donating them to a couple who is unable to conceive. Many believe that embryo donation and adoption is the most life-honoring solution to this difficult choice.

Okay, here's the deal: when couples go through infertility treatment, such as in vitro fertilization - something disapproved by the conservative wing of the Catholic Church and some religious fundamentalists, as I wrote in this article about an ongoing battle in Costa Rico -- embryos created in a laboratory are transferred into the woman's womb. More are created than can be transferred.  

The embryos that can't be transferred are frozen. Here we get to the heart of the issue.   Stem cells are commonly extracted from the unnecessary embryos or pre-embryos.

As we know, the religious right opposes research on the unused embryos for stem cell treatments, now matter how promising the scientific basis for finding cures. The religious right instead wants "adoption" of embryos-in- storage, which they like to call "snowflake babies." Since adoption only applies to living babies. this is a clever grafting of a religious right anti-abortion message ("adoption not abortion") to embryos-in-storage.

But now back to the Christian Medical and Dental Association. This is not simply a faith-based group, but a front group for the promotion of religious right policies. The CMDA lobbies to make abortion illegal and harder to get.  

CMDA holds firmly that God is the Creator of life, that life begins at conception, and that all human life is of infinite value. We support measures to protect life from its earliest beginnings.

CMDA opposes emergency contraception -- not only access to it, but the actual product itself.  It goes to bat to support the right of pharmacists to refuse to fill medical prescriptions (a topic about which moiv has written extensively at Talk2Action.)
From the Washington Post:

At least 18 states are already considering 36 bills. The flurry of political activity is being welcomed by conservative groups that consider it crucial to prevent health workers from being coerced into participating in care they find morally repugnant -- protecting their "right of conscience" or "right of refusal."

"This goes to the core of what it means to be an American," said David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "Conscience is the most sacred of all property. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care workers should not be forced to violate their consciences."

CMDA opposes stem cell research. It will not tolerate homosexuality (ironically lesbians are some of the likely customers for embryo adoption, but CMDA supports the right of physicians to refuse to help lesbians conceive.) It opposes the right of people to make end-of-life decisions. It even takes a position against evolution.

Criticizing a "Scientific Inquisition" aimed at squelching debate over exclusively teaching the theory of evolution, the Christian Medical Association today called for fair and open consideration of the scientific merits of intelligent design theory.

In an excellent article on the website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Do No Harm: Far-Right Medical Groups and Religion Don't Mix, Patricia Miller shines a bright light on the disingenuous CMDA.

Groups like the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), the Catholic Medical Association, Pharmacists for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) trade on the professional credibility of doctors and other health professionals to oppose abortion and reproductive rights.

These previously little-known groups are becoming increasingly active in policy issues that affect women's right to the most medically appropriate and scientifically advanced reproductive health care.

About CMDA specifically, Miller writes:

In many ways, CMDA looks like any of the many medical specialty societies in the United States. It offers continuing medical education for professionals, which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education; has student chapters, and holds programs to address professional development issues. But the goal of the CMDA's programs is to advance conservative religious doctrine in health care. CMDA opposes cloning, stem cell research, abortion, emergency contraception, and assisted suicide. The association supports so-called "conscience clauses" that allow health providers to refuse to provide reproductive health services and promotes the scientifically unsupported view that oral contraceptives cause abortion. Unlike most medical specialty societies, the CMDA is not represented in the American Medical Association's House of Delegates because the AMA requires member organizations to not discriminate in membership on the basis of sexual orientation, and CMDA is anti-homosexual.

CMDA explicitly promotes evangelism by doctors to their patients and sponsors a program called "The Saline Solution," a weekend seminar that promises to help doctors "transform your practice into a ministry" and "effectively share Christ with your patients.".....

In addition to pushing religious doctrine into health care through medical evangelism, CMDA is active on the national policy front. CMDA has vocally backed national bans on reproductive and scientific cloning and embryonic stem cell research, capitalizing on the supposed expertise of its physician membership to promote minority scientific views, such as the superiority of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

While the CMDA positions itself as within the medical mainstream, its positions are not mainstream and are often based on pseudoscientific claims propagated by the anti-choice community. CMDA works closely with the far-right Christian organization Focus on the Family, which promotes medically inaccurate views such as that abortion causes breast cancer....

CMDA is also part of a disinformation campaign to denigrate oral contraceptives and condoms. Medicine and science define pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of a fertilized egg. CMDA uses its own definition--that pregnancy begins at the moment an egg is fertilized--and recommends that doctors consider counseling patients that oral contraceptives may cause abortion.

As for CMDA's new snowflake program, it really only constitutes one-third of the $1 million HHS is devoting to the promotion of embryo adoption.

But "embryo adoption" itself is something of a controversy, and certainly, a waste of government money. Even by the figures of the National Embryo Adoption Center, if I calculate it right, the embryo "adoption" will only succeed for 8 percent of the frozen embryos. Best estimates are that there are only 12, maybe 16, successful embryo "adoptions" per year. (There is no formal reporting mechanism.)

Bioethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan called embryo adoption a sham

(U)sing terms like "adoption" encourages people to believe that frozen embryos are the equivalent of children. But they are not the same. In fact, infertile couples who want children can frequently make embryos but they cannot make embryos that become fetuses or babies.

Caplan continues:

The Bush administration and Congress know all these facts, but have nevertheless poured more than $1 million of taxpayer money into the Snowflakes program and others aimed at facilitating "embryo adoption."

This is a nice way to score points with those who advocate the view that embryos are actual babies and should not be used for research purposes. But it is not the best way to help couples who want to have actual babies.

One million dollars would be far better spent matching fertile couples willing to make embryos with infertile couples, rather than trying to get them to use unhealthy frozen ones.

One million dollars could also help defray the staggering costs of IVF, which only middle- and upper-class couples can currently afford.

But when the money is spent on programs like Snowflakes, the only explanation is ideology not medicine.

In his state of the union speech, President Bush said "We have entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite."

Well, maybe he didn't invite this conflict, but he sure has encouraged it. The White House Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and Bush administration departments are pouring taxpayer money in flurries and storms, not mere snowflakes, to groups like CMDA that promote harshly ideological messages, discriminate against gays and lesbians, and front for the religious right.

I take it back, Mr. President. Your tru luv for the religious right is more than support -- it's a definite invitation to trouble that should be frozen and discarded as quickly as possible.

The Bush administration regularly holds free programs to help faith-based groups apply for grants. It's a good opportunity to see the massive program from the inside-out. The next one from the Department of Health and Human Services is Tuesday February 7 in Harrisburg, PA.  

Others are in varied locations in the spring.  

Find more information and register here.

FBCI is hosting a series of Regional Conferences and Targeted Workshops on President Bush's Initiative in cities across the country. The conferences are free but pre-registration is required. The next White House event will take place on Tuesday, February 7, 2006, in Harrisburg, PA. Representatives from faith-based and community organizations that have a track record of applying for government grants, particularly those who have not yet won grants, should attend.

by cyncooper on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 03:49:23 AM EST

President George W. Bush introduced 21 families who have either adopted or given up for adoption frozen embryos that remained after fertility treatments at his White House press conference on May 24, 2005. But first, he thanked Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, for his role in advancing the cause of snowflake babies. "He's doing a fine job," said Bush. (This head-pat from the prez presaged Bush's praise for FEMA Director Michael D. "Brownie" Brown. "Brownie," said Bush on on September 6, 2005, "you are doin' a heck of a job" at setting priorities and spending the taxpayers' dollars.)

Next, Bush introduced the leaders of Nightlight Christian Adoptions and thanked them for their work with frozen embryo adoptions.

"I want to thank Nightlight Christian Adoptions for their good work. Nightlight's embryo adoption program has now matched over 200 biological parents with about 140 adoptive families, resulting in the birth of 81 children so far, with more on the way. (Applause.)

"The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo. Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way."

Speak for yourself, Mr. President. I personally did not start out life as a cluster of seven cells in a cryogenic freezer. Back when I was born, they did not yet have cryogenic freezers. My parents actually took turns hand cranking me in a White Mountain ice cream maker for nine months. A lot of crushed ice and rock salt later, they had a spanking new baby boy -- and Mom had built up biceps like a blacksmith. But hey, every embryo has its own story.

by jhutson on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 10:33:48 AM EST
Of the "snowflake baby" concept. I decided that it might be a Christian right position which held that states or the federal government should surgically "harvest" women's eggs when they reach puberty, to dole them out later as those women marry and want to bear children. I'm not sure how what the analog would be for men - in characteristic patriarchal fashion, the issue might be glossed over.  But the possibilities are gauche.

The Christian right of Indiana has already sidled up to such bizarre and Orwellian territory - in a recent bill ( drafted September 2005 ), withdrawn after considerable Internet-generated controversy, with sanctions against something termed "unauthorized reproduction"

[ source : see link above ] "Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana, including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant "by means other than sexual intercourse."

According to a draft of the recommended change in state law, every woman in Indiana seeking to become a mother through assisted reproduction therapy such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and egg donation must first file for a "petition for parentage" in their local county probate court.

Only women who are married will be considered for the "gestational certificate" that must be presented to any doctor who facilitates the pregnancy. Further, the "gestational certificate" will only be given to married couples that successfully complete the same screening process currently required by law of adoptive parents.

As the draft of the new law reads now, an intended parent "who knowingly or willingly participates in an artificial reproduction procedure" without court approval, "commits unauthorized reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor." The criminal charges will be the same for physicians who commit "unauthorized practice of artificial reproduction."....

Republican Sen. Patricia Miller is both the Health Finance Commission chair and the sponsor of the bill.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 12:49:20 PM EST
I would think that this is intended primarily to prevent lesbians from using ivf and artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies. Unmarried straight women, of course, are targets, as well, but lesbians are probably bigger consumers of reproductive technologies of various sorts.

As you probably know, there is a lawsuit in California after a doctor, because of the "Christian beliefs" refused infertility treatment for a lesbian.

It rankles the Christian right on many levels.

The 'snowflake' technology is not really that successful.  And it is common among infertility clinics to ask patients if they wish to offer their embryos to other patients. That proposed bill or concept is preventing "the adoption" by select groups, ie, the woman who is not in a traditional marriage.

by cyncooper on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 03:42:10 PM EST

If religious conservatives feel that life begins at fertilization...

What do they call it when a fertilized egg fails to achieve implantation?

From my understanding, this tends to happen often enough (and is a common source of infertility woes).

So, logically you could make a claim that a sexually active woman who has her period could actually be experiencing an "abortion"...

What's scary is to think about how some RR folks would attempt to "solve" this "problem".


by EmilyWynn8 on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 12:51:56 PM EST

Yes, I've often wondered if the Religious Right and the anti-abortion zealots consider it to be involuntary manslaughter when a woman's body rejects a fertilized egg. If so, women are committing murder every second of every day. If, in the zealot view, that little dot of a cell is equivalent to a human being, then for a woman to reject it ... well, why is it not the same as tossing a child in the river?  I mean, how far can they take this line of thinking?

Actually, of course, it's pretty common for a woman's body to reject a fertilized egg, sometimes even after implantation.

It's impossible to know how many fertilized eggs experience this particular fate, but Dr. Felicia Stewart, co-director of the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy in San Francisco and an expert on contraception, commented about this in an article I wrote several years back:

Many fertilized eggs--cells barely visible to the eye--are washed away by a woman's body prior to implantation, added Stewart. Even after implantation, 15 percent are shed naturally by the body.

by cyncooper on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 10:44:48 PM EST
For that matter (whilst we're talking about things that can go naturally wrong with a pregnancy), what about ectopic pregnancy?  

Ectopic pregnancy is when a pregnancy develops in the fallopian tubes--if an emergency surgical abortion is not performed, the fallopian tubes usually burst (which is a lifethreatening emergency).  There is quite literally no way for a tubal pregnancy to make it to term, or often even to viability.

One wonders if the "every zygote is sacred" crowd would be happy to let women die in attempts to carry tubal pregnancies (strike that--I actually know for a fact they would).

For that matter, what about hyatidiform moles, or what is normally referred to as "molar pregnancy"?  

Molar pregnancy is a way in which pregnancy can go horribly, horribly wrong--it is, quite literally, a type of cancer that originates in either placental tissue or in embryos with certain severe chromosomal defects.  In other words--unlike practically all other cancers--it is a type of cancer that develops from a fertilised zygote whose development goes tragically wrong, and partial moles in particular can literally be described as embryo-based cancers.

Molar pregnancy not only can kill (from being a pregnancy related cancer) but in fact the massive hormonal disruptions (completely aside from the "if untreated it will invade your uterus, your other tissues, and kill you" aspect) can themselves be life-threatening.

The cure is a common abortion technique--a D&C--followed up with a course or two of chemo.  In the rare cases where there have been "twinned" pregnancies where one embryo develops normally and the other becomes a molar pregnancy, these have a much higher risk of metastasis and a bad outcome; in fact, the risk of death from cancer is so high that in these cases abortion (of both the healthy embryo and the molar pregnancy) is recommended as a lifesaving measure for the mother because there is just too much risk in trying to carry the healthy embryo to term (in fact, molar pregnancies can metastasize to their "twin", too).

Again, just like ectopic pregnancies, there is no way a molar pregnancy--even though it developed from a fertilised egg--will ever develop normally, and if one attempted to "carry it to term" it'd likely kill the mother in the process.

One wonders if every hyatidiform mole is sacred to dominionists :3

by dogemperor on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 10:08:25 AM EST

The push for dominionist medical associations and the like is actually a fairly old one (well, 80's-ish old) and started with the dominionist wing of the anti-abortion movement.  (I myself can speak from some authority here--I'm a walkaway from a dominionist group where the state headquarters of Kentucky Doctors for Life is based--and in fact run by the same person who runs the state branch of the American Family Association.)

One of the reasons dominionist groups in general have been pushing for dominionist accreditation groups and associations is the "pro-life" movement and its dominionist links, but another--less well known--reason is that several major medical associations (especially psychiatric and social work associations) have come out against practices promoted as medical therapy in the dominionist community.

Particularly of note, multiple mainstream medical associations have come out against the practice of "reparative" or "Transformation Therapy"--or, put much more bluntly, "de-gaying therapy".  A group representing almost every mainstream psychatric and social work group in the United States issued a formal statement against "de-gaying therapy", the American Psychological Association in particular has issued formal policy statements against "de-gaying therapy" and considers the promotion of "reparative therapy" by its members grounds for formal disbarment for ethics violations, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics has formally condemned "reparative therapy" as highly harmful.  (In fact, this is specifically one of the issues that Love in Action is in hot water with the state of Tennessee over.)

Again, many of these groups now consider the promotion of this an ethics violation, meaning they will disbar and revoke accreditation over this--in many case, meaning a loss of license, as many states use the "mainstream" medical and psychological associations' ethics guidelines for their state ethics rules for medical licensure.

In the case of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this plus a position statement condemning abstinence-only pregnancy prevention programs as fundamentally flawed has led to dominionist groups pushing a dominionist "shadow economy" alternative, the "American College of Pediatricians".

Another factor has been education on evolution in regards to the role played in infectious diseases gaining resistance as well as cancer cells (yes, some dominionists even oppose this--then again, some actually claim that infectious diseases are caused by solidified demonic ectoplasm (I wish I was making this up)).

A further factor--again, largely in regards to social work and psychological associations--is the increasing awareness that many of the tactics promoted in the dominionist community, and especially those groups with a heavy emphasis on "spiritual warfare" or "deliverance ministry", as being  abusive and psychologically harmful in and of themselves.  (This is, quite literally, a revolution that has occured only in the past five to ten years; almost all extant literature on spiritual abuse within "Bible-based groups" dates from at earliest 1995 or so, with very very few exceptions (notably Maranatha and Youth With A Mission, both groups tightly connected with neopentecostal dominionist groups).  There is now general acceptance that spiritual abuse can occur even in large church denominations and movements, whereas this was not generally considered even ten years ago and thought to be isolated or tactics within particular churches.)  As dominionism is itself increasingly recognised as "harmful to children and other living things" by the mainstream medical associations, dominionists are going to dominionist-run "shadow economy" groups--where walkaways or LGBT individuals will be far less likely to receive assistance with possible child abuse issues in the home, blatant coercion, referral to experts in spiritual abuse, etc. and more likely to be treated by or referred to someone who tries "reparative therapy", "theophostic Christian counseling", or even exorcisms.  It makes it far less likely that women who may need services like birth control, antiherpetic medication, reproductive health services, etc. will receive these services appropriately (even if they may need birth control for, say, prevention of complications of polycystic ovary disease)--and it can make it literally impossible for entire categories of people to receive appropriate medical treatment at all (or even be able to escape from religiously-motivated abuse).

I would recommend, in these cases (yes, there is the "action" to go along with the "talk"!):

a) Again, research through dominionist groups themselves is always helpful.  Quite a few of these groups list themselves in directories so that dominionists can find them--even those who don't might be found through a search of "Christian Yellow Pages" type directories used by the dominionist community.

Needless to say, those doctors should NOT be patronised, and people recommended to avoid them.  (And if those doctors are the only ones in your area or the only ones your insurance company will pay for, public awareness needs to be made about this.)

b) One good area of research--proved a valid line of research by groups like the Queer Action Committee against the Refuge "de-gaying" center run by Love in Action--is to actively research laws in your state regarding medical licensure, specifically on what is defined as "practicing medicine without a license" in your state and what your state's ethics guidelines are for various practices.

If your state does as the state of Tennessee does (and many other states) and takes the ethics guidelines of the "mainstream" accreditation bodies for medical specialties as their own ethics guidelines, dominionist doctors can actually be threatened with the loss of their license.  Serious work should be done in both filing ethics violation complaints against dominionist medical personnel who either refuse to render treatment or who push  harmful therapies (like "recovered memory therapy"--associated with "Satanic Panic" and now considered an ethics violation by the APA--or "reparative therapy") and also to make sure that dominionist accreditation bodies are not given equal status.  (One of the things dominionists are trying to do is to push things like having NARTH or the American College of Pediatrics listed as an official accreditation body for medical licensure.)

One area which may be helpful in this is showing how many dominionist "alternative" accreditation groups are in essence "accreditation mills".  For example, NARTH will literally accept anyone who pays a membership fee, claims to be one of a large group of "counseling" groups (which include not only licensed therapists but clergy) and signing of their statement of faith; the American College of Pediatricians accepts any pediatrician who agrees with a dominionist statement of faith.  Neither has the rigorous ethics requirements nor requirements for training, periodic recertification and continuing medical education, etc. that mainstream certification boards have.)

In a related vein, research should be done on requirements for medical practice in your state; in many states, dominionist "reparative therapy" groups or "Christian counseling" groups can be shut down for practice of medicine without a license.  (This is specifically what may get Love in Action get shut down; the only professional on staff who had any accreditation whatsoever had his medical license removed for ethics violations, and they have been dispensing medical therapy and psychotropic medications without being a licensed medical facility.)

If your state is particularly lax (Missouri and Florida being examples) push for increased oversight of licensing.  (One example of this being proposed on the federal level is HR 1738 which would heavily restrict the activities of coercive "boot camps"--many of which (like Love in Action) are run by dominionist groups.  Montana is one of several states working on similar legislation.

One important thing to focus on--exemptions should not be allowed for "Faith Based" groups (because, all too often, these lead to "Faith Based Coercion"--as documented many times on Talk2Action itself, and thoroughly documented by groups like International Survivor's Action Committee (which has successfully gotten some of the worst groups running "Bible boot camps" either shut down or investigated).

by dogemperor on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 11:37:22 PM EST

You demonstrate an ongoing tactic of the Religious Right, which is to spawn more and more special interest groups that claim to have expertise in some area -- even if it is one guy in his basement.  They then use this to do support work with legal and medical briefs, arguments inside trade and professional associations, lobbying, campaigning and seeking media attention, all aimed toward their allied and common goal. That they are now getting government grants furthers that process, adding validation and promoting this cycle.

Liberal groups have used this technique to some extent.  But much more can be done. It needs to be reinforced and encouraged, and supported by private funding and development of leadership.

by cyncooper on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 03:49:32 PM EST

Lest people doubt that many of the more abusive "behaviour modification facilities" are "faith based coercion" groups run by dominionists, there is a wonderful article titled "Why Jesus Is Not A Regulator" that explains this:
One of the primary goals of President George W. Bush's new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is "to eliminate unnecessary legislative, regulatory, and other bureaucratic barriers that impede effective faith-based and other community efforts to solve social problems." Bush has said that America needs more "faith-based treatment" for addiction and juvenile delinquency and that he would like to "promote alternative licensing regimes to recognize religious training as an alternative form of qualification."

Bad idea. Even leaving aside the dubious constitutionality of government financial support for religious services, deregulation is a recipe for disaster. Recent experience shows why.

Over the last 10 years, more than two dozen teenagers have died in so-called "tough love" rehabilitation facilities that use violent confrontation and exposure to primitive living conditions as a means to a cure. At least three girls in different facilities died from dehydration or hyperthermia following forced exercise; a 16-year-old California boy died of an infection after staff laughed at him and forced him to carry a basket filled with his vomit- and excrement-covered clothes; a 12-year-old Florida boy died in 2000 when a 320-pound counselor physically restrained him (the counselor said he thought the boy's complaints that he was unable to breathe were "fake"). Not all victims of such "treatment" die, of course: Many just end up with posttraumatic stress disorder or in a coma, or are discovered tied up in closets. Some of the programs where these incidents occurred were explicitly faith-based; some were not. None, however, were properly regulated.

Yet despite these cautionary examples--and despite the testimony of numerous experts who say that what is needed to prevent them from recurring is more federal oversight, not less--Bush's enthusiasm for these programs has not waned. In 1997, after Texas regulators had tried to shut down a Christian rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge because its staff failed to meet educational requirements, then-Governor Bush responded by scuttling all the state's training and safety regulations for such facilities. And in a speech two years later, Bush praised the fact that at Teen Challenge, "if you don't work, you don't eat." Now that he's ensconced in the White House, Bush intends to deregulate Teen Challenge-type programs nationwide.

In fact, it turns out that dominionist "Faith Based Coercion" promoters were major bankrollers for the Republican Party, including a person associated with a group widely recognised as the most abusive "behaviour modification" program in history (and one associated with Love In Action, at that):
Mel Sembler, who made his fortune as a shopping mall magnate, is a longtime Bush-family supporter and friend. He was also the Republican Party's campaign finance from 1997 to 2001. Sembler's the man who devised the term "Republican Regents" for contributors of more than $250,000 to the GOP during W.'s 2000 campaign.

He is also the founder of Straight, Inc. Started in 1976, Straight, Inc., was based on the "therapeutic community" approach pioneered several years earlier, which involved addicts forcing harsh discipline and a surrender to God on one another. (The first "therapeutic community" program, called Synanon, went on to become a violent cult, some of whose members placed snakes in their detractors' mailboxes.)

Whether Sembler has used his fundraising prowess as leverage to pressure President Bush into funding faith-based programs is impossible to determine. But he's clearly got the Bush family's ear--and claims to have been responsible for former first lady Nancy Reagan's interest in the drug fight. In any case, the story of Straight, Inc., is a cautionary tale for anyone who believes that deregulating youth services facilities is a good idea.

Accounts by former patients depict a grim routine at Straight. "Newcomers" were required to be trailed at all times by a series of "oldcomers," who literally were to keep a finger through the newcomer's belt loop at all times--even when the newcomer went to the bathroom. "Therapy" consisted of mainly sitting straight for 10 hours a day, confessing sins. A teen who wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic in his or her confession would be thrown to the floor and immobilized, often for hours.

Immobilization was also the punishment for other infractions--such as eye contact between a boy and a girl, or slouching. Television, music, and reading were frequently forbidden. So was unsupervised contact with parents or other outsiders. The program had a, shall we say, fundamentalist view of sexuality. Girls were made to confess sexual transgressions in detail, while boys yelled "Slut!" and "Whore!" at them. Boys were sometimes forced to dress in drag as punishment for transgressions.

Yet Straight grew rapidly as the war on drugs escalated. Nancy Reagan visited the organization twice and called it her "favorite." At its peak, it operated nine centers in seven states. On average, teens stayed a year at a cost of $14,000. Since "counselors" were former patients whose only training had been treatment, costs were low and profits high.

The lawsuits began almost immediately. In 1981 the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Atlanta-based branch of Straight, Inc., but dropped litigation in return for an independent investigation. (Sembler told a Florida business publication that the ACLU's opposition "just shows that we have been doing things right.") In 1983 a former patient won $220,000 from a jury for unlawful imprisonment that involved regular beatings at the Straight, Inc., facility in St. Petersburg, Florida. Another Florida patient won a $721,000 jury award in 1990. Dozens--if not hundreds--of other suits were settled out of court.

State regulatory agencies, fueled by media accounts, were concerned about Straight from the start. In 1983 60 Minutes focused on reports of abuse at the St. Petersburg program. In 1991 the Springfield, Virginia, facility visited by Mrs. Reagan was shut down by state authorities--and was immediately reopened in Columbia, Maryland, until state regulators there cracked down the following year.

Soon thereafter, the Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas facilities were all shuttered, either by government regulators or as the result of criminal investigations. By 1993 Straight, Inc., itself was dead--all the regulation, investigation, and bad publicity had finally led to terminal attrition. But Straight's ethos lives on: In 1999 a patient won $4.5 million in a suit against a similar program--shut down by New Jersey regulators in 1998--that was run by Miller Newton, Straight's former national clinical director.

Meanwhile, after Straight, Inc., closed its last facility in Florida in 1993, an internal state audit concluded that officials had renewed its license despite knowledge of its abuses for years. Why? Political reasons, according to the audit. A St. Petersburg Times editorial entitled "A Persistent Foul Odor" noted the connections between Mel Sembler and George Bush the elder.

by dogemperor on Sat Feb 04, 2006 at 11:44:18 PM EST

As someone who has been active in emryonic stem cell advocacy sine president Bush 2000 "election," I want to thank you for shedding light on this silliness.

As a Catholic I try to think about my faith and i conclude that many of these folks, while well-intentioned, miss the point.

Didn't Jesus come into the world to heal the sick and disabled?

The Jesus I believe in is a Jew and He lived his life on Earth according to Torah.

Jesus never repudiated the Jewish halahik concept of healing lives in danger of death, known as pecuach nefish. Nor is there any place in the Gospels where Jesus refuted the Jewish concept that the embryo has the same status as water for the first forty days.

Today's Jews, in studying the same Torah Jesus lived by, concluded it would be a sin not to do this research.

I know in my heart, Jesus has no problem with this research.

A non-implanted embryo is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree or seed a blade of grass.

As I sit in my wheelchair, my body disintengrating from muscular dystrophy, I often wonder, what drives such people? Isn't this activist government being used to impose a minority opinion as law?
Don't they understand that the mission of Jesus was built upon tikkun olam?

This is an important issue that must continually be addressed. Thank you Cyn for addressing this issue that may affect whether I will be cured or die within the next ten years.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 10:10:05 AM EST

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