Religious Right Turns a Blind Eye to a Real "Life Issue"
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 04:04:13 PM EST
With the imminent inauguration of Barack Obama, the issue of embryonic cell research is again coming to the fore. The Religious Right, looking for any issue on which to stage their comeback, will certainly do their part to make the most of it in pursuit of their never-ending culture war.

While the Religious Right claims to have a corner on being "pro-life" -- there is nothing more pro-life and pro-family than fully funding this vital medical research. I should know, because I speak from experience.

As many readers know, a progressive neuromuscular condition has left me a virtual quadriplegic, LMG muscular dystrophy. And although I earn a decent income as a private attorney, an ever larger portion of it goes to home-aides and medical devices -- most of which are designed to keep me working. My disposable income, and even my income earning capacity, has become a hostage to my affliction. This really hit home when a doctor said I should think about divorcing my wife and give her all my assets so that I would be able to qualify for Medicare. I was flabbergasted.

But apparently this is a situation faced by many families as they have to consider spending down everything they have before they can qualify for state or federal assistance. But all this makes me think that if we were to identify the true destroyer of American families, it is not the red-herring thrown by the Religious Right, such as LGBT marriage equality. It is the lack of universal health care.

This is the side of disease that the unaffiliated rarely see. And it is certainly the side of disease that Religious Right opponents embryonic stem cell research and their neoconservative allies most definitely do not want to talk about. The Knights of Columbus spent millions is support of Proposition 8 so that LGBT couples would be denied marriage equality. Yet when it comes to defending my family from possible financial ruin -- they don't give a damn at all. In fact, they actually oppose this research that could help me.

Long-term disease and disability have devastating consequences for any family. Sons who should be playing catch with a father instead is forced to lift his hand to help him scratch a head itch; daughters who should driven to a friend's house must instead help him eat is dinner; a wife who works and takes care of her children has the added stress of rolling her husband over on his side simply because he cannot do so on his own.

But that is only part of the stressful scenario. Income that would ordinarily pay for the upkeep of a house or family vacations, instead pays for home-aids and drivers to take the afflicted family member to work -- that is if he is fortunate enough to have a job. Longtime friends cannot be visited simply because there is no way for a power wheelchair to get into a friend's house with a flight of steps by the front door. These and a thousand other circumstances affect my life and tens of thousands of people in circumstances like mine. Some of the circumstances are obvious, some are subtle and are the kinds of things people who are fully able bodied as I once was, take for granted.

Many lives are put on hold because of one with disability. Families without health insurance cannot afford the medical equipment -- ventilators, toilet lifts, leg braces -- that may actually improve a patient's quality of life. Isolation is an ever-present reality.

How ironic it is that many of the opponents of embryonic stem cell research also oppose universal healthcare! Neoconservative William Kristol is a perfect example. In 1993, when President Clinton attempted some form of national health insurance, Kristol circulated a memo to fellow Republicans in which he claimed: "There is no health care crisis."

In the coming weeks the Religious Right will take their culture war of aggression to the Obama administration. They will cite stem cell research, along with marriage equality and universal health care as the things that will break down the American family. No one should be fooled by the diversionary battles of the culture war couched in the language of religious orthodoxies. The real agenda for Kristol and his neoconservative pals is an irreligious economic libertarianism. It is the same ideology of economic buccaneerism advanced by the likes of Ludwig Von Mises, Fredrich Hayek and Milton Friedman -- and embraced by political leaders in both parties. And we have seen what their ideas have wrought in the current economic crisis.

May God help us if they once again prevail. If they do, they will certainly further weaken the very thing they claim they want to defend, the American family.

I know that the regular readers of this column know my situation ad nauseum. Clearly, I am far more fortunate than many others similarly situated. I have a job and, through my wife's union job, I have healthcare insurance.

Still, even for someone as fortunate as myself, a disease such as muscular dystrophy is still a costly affair. If anyone wants to be pro-life and preserve family values, let us not impede research that may help preserve the economic vitality of the family.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 04:10:00 PM EST

I think with the "orthodox" Catholics it is more a matter of observing the outward forms rather than the substance of "pro-life" issues. It is very shameful to us as a nation that we can find billions for new, state of the art weapons systems, and we can afford to bail out the Wall Street "geniuses" that helped to create the current financial meltdown, but we can't afford to invest in our citizens and investing in our own health.

You've mentioned your situation before, and I'm fortunate to be in relatively good health. Despite this, I have a preexisting condition that prevents me from being able to get private insurance coverage. I'm fortunate to be covered through a group plan, but I could not afford coverage on my own, nor could I get a non-group policy.

I agree that we should consider research that would preserve the economic vitality of the family.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 09:26:44 PM EST

Luckily, things will be changing in this country about twenty minutes after noon on January 20, 2009.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 07:09:28 PM EST
I'm looking forward to that day- and crossing my fingers until then!

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 07:36:18 PM EST

Sharing a personal story is not always easy, but your point about health care is absolutely on target. This is the single most important economic issue to address in our economy today. In addition to health care as a financial issue, the war on drugs also needs to be redefined and begin to move into the medical arena and out of the political arena where it is seen as a "war on drugs" and fuels the prison/corrections industrial complex. This also has been perhaps the single most distructive outside attack on the family any society has faced. We are now well into the 2nd and 3rd generation of families broken in our war on drugs, and the problem just becomes greater. Then welfare reform is needed. This is where stimulus dollars will have a real impact. Two areas of this welfare reform need change -- first the basic level of distribution, helping people to have a better standard of living, then a major plan to help temporary and part time income benefit and motivate the families on welfare. Difficult to accomplish these changes, but well worth it. Finally, perhaps the republicans are worth listening to, in regards to some tax policies, particularly in the area of investment credits, to business which expand, upgrade, or retool, with the result of additional workers hired and placed back on the tax roles. For the homeowner, or worker, these investment tax credits could become available for green technology in our homes and transportation. Many of these programs are in place but could be expanded. This is a start toward pro-family policies.

by chaplain on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 10:17:40 AM EST
Remove the part about "motivating" people on welfare and helping businesses, and I'd agree with you.

The truth is, most of the people on welfare don't need motivation.  They need chances- and not just at dead end, abusive, miserable jobs where they will go nowhere and remain in their unpleasant situation.  (There is plenty of ethnographic information that suggests low-wage paying businesses also generally treat their people poorly- especially inner-city minorities.  They behave just within the law, and want people to become profit-making robots.)

The idea that welfare people (or the poor, or the homeless) needs motivation is no better than telling them to "get a job".  I can't use the language I would to describe that nonsense.  I could also say the same thing about "work ethic" or "budgeting" or any other number of offensive terms I've heard applied on poor people.  The fact is, poor people are PEOPLE like everyone else.  Good and bad, lazy and hard working (in fact - research does suggest that the poor are generally harder working than others- they just get shafted more!)

I might also add that BUSINESSES ARE THE PROBLEM.  Speaking from experience as well as through research, the truth is that businesses are dedicated to maximizing profit and paying the top people obscene salaries while cutting wages and benefits for the bottom 90% (or more).  It's all about GREED.  What businesses need is VERY STRICT government oversight, with tight controls on how much they pay their top people.  Don't cut them "slack"- force them to treat people decently and many of the problems will start fading.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 10:41:04 AM EST

I deal with chronic pain (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned the health problems I fight on a constant basis), and from what I've observed, the problem is that most conservatives view disabled people through the lens of stereotyping.  If we don't look "disabled", we're faking it and lazy.  If we DO look disabled, we're either dumb or unable to work (and should be working at jobs that almost don't require a brain).

This way, they don't have to face the facts that most disabilities are NOT the fault of the person suffering from them, and that disabled people want as much life as they enjoy.

Since in their mind, we're automatically relegated to one of these unworthy categories (except to throw a few pennies at in pity), then they don't have to deal with actually doing something helpful, or to think about the impact of things like stem cell research on our lives.  That, I think, is a good part of why they would rather ban helpful things like that- they JUST DON'T CARE.  (They also just don't want to expend any real effort in thinking about these subjects!)

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 10:48:59 AM EST

they are only pro-birth. Once a child is actually born, breathing, eating, etc., it is of no more interest - especially if it ends up having health issues. What? You want healthcare now? Are you crazy? And you want family medical leave, too??? You really are crazy!

I am a reader who was not familiar with your illness, Frank, and your story brought tears to my eyes. I am not "feeling sorry" for you, please understand. You are an incredible, strong and courageous person, and I very much admire your writing. But I am sorry that we as a society have so little regard for people who have medical needs. I am also sorry that we value a fertilized ovum with human "potential" over a fully cognizant, thinking, feeling human being.

Perhaps my tears are rage and helplessness. That there is little any one of us can do to make things right. And there is little indication that the powers that be in America have any interest in making things right, either. Like people in other totalitarian countries, we are presented with packaged choices in elections. Oh, yes, we have the trappings of a free society, but we are anything but.

I think how we treat those who have needs is pretty indicative of what kind of society we have, and ours is wanting. The religious right says we are a Christian nation? LOL. Whatever would Jesus say to America? I doubt it would be to persecute gays and starve out the working class, all in the name of "family values".

I would love to see national health insurance for all. I hope we DO see it someday. My own mother was one who had to "spend down" to get Medicaid. We will never pay all of my husband's hospital bills in our lifetime. And recently, I fell and dislocated my knee, sprained my ankle, jammed a finger and badly wrenched my back. I've done the knee before, and reduced the dislocation myself - know how, watched the doctor do it before, LOL. I did not go to the hospital. Couldn't pay for it. I hope nothing was broken. It's all healing, but the back is still messed up, and the finger is really stiff. That very well may have been broken, but it's on the non-dominant hand, so... Oh well.

Nevertheless, none of us should have to do without basic health care. It is not right.

by phatkhat on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 05:51:49 PM EST
...if the bishops and the Knights of Columbus just spent one quarter of the time and assets they do on opposing embryonic stem cell research and marriage equality instead on lobbying for universal healthcare, every American would be covered in no time flat.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 07:15:47 PM EST
I am retired with disability, and because I was in the union at the time, I have enough income to provide for me and frankly, anyone who asks. (Soft-touch doesn't even come close.) The situation you are in, along with thousands of others, makes no sense at all. The US citizenry has been taken to the cleaners by ideologues who couldn't care less for anyone except their kind, which are the "already haves". It's dispicable, and I have no patience any longer with those who dispute the rationale behind Universal health Care. I hope you find some type of peace over this, and I certainly include those who stand by you. Good luck, and thank you for all your hard work.

by trog69 on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 07:47:08 PM EST

are not understood by the majority of the healthy population. People who are healthy or who have had simple acute illnesses with full resolution have little idea how difficult it is to navigate within the US health care system.  Yes, it can be a pain to deal with insurers over a bill for a broken bone, but there are relatively few non-covered costs, provided extensive rehab is not needed. Multiply many-fold for chronic illness - and for those who need regular services or need special equipment to be able to work or otherwise have active lives, quality of life depends on where they live and how much insurers are required to pay out and how much state assistance is available.

Medical divorce is common, and still isn't guaranteed to prevent serious financial damage to the former spouse, depending on assets.

I hadn't known about your condition, Frank, but I can see why you have such interest in stem cell research.

by NancyP on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 11:52:17 PM EST

Regarding being able to work- depending on the political nature of the area in which you live, the attitudes of the employers can have almost as much impact as whether or not you have access to special equipment or not.

We live in an area that is dominated by dominionism/neoliberalism/neoconservativism.  While I was in business, I could right off the top of my head name quite a few businesses that wouldn't cut even the tiniest "slack" to any employees (usual stated reason- can't encourage their laziness!)  I had customers who would not allow chairs in the working area and employees were forbidden to sit down while working- even if the work they were doing required that they squat or kneel (while welding, cutting, etc.)  One place tried to force ME to work while standing (while repairing sensitive and detailed electronics)- and with my health, that was impossible.  It took going to the company president and telling him that either I had a chair, or his equipment would remain broken- and he (angrily) relented.  I might mention that one of the office staff would "yank" the chair out of the working area every time I was finished for the day.  ("Employees" had to stand- anyone above the "floor" level (staff) had comfortable chairs they could sit in any time they wanted- except their receptionist who had a hard stool.)

I even had a customer who would punish employees who went to the bathroom during "working time"- they were given two 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch period, and that was the time they were supposed to "go" (and if the line was so bad that they couldn't get in until the end of break- too bad!)  If you had any chronic health problem that required you to go to the bathroom- tough, you didn't work there.  (Again, this rule didn't apply to the "head honchos".)

These sorts are very common in this area- and they've organized together to keep unions from coming in.   They even tried to recruit ME to help fight unions (they wanted me to keep my ears open for any union-type activity while I was in their shops)!


I applied for disability years ago- like I told the judge, I can function if I'm allowed to work strictly at my own pace, and that meant having good days and bad days when just getting out of bed was exceptional.  I, and multiple witnesses (including doctor's reports) also told him that I needed a comfortable chair and the ability to lay down if needed.  NO company will tolerate that.

He said that he thought I could work as a cashier in a supermarket or as a toll booth operator, and that was that.  My lawyer and witness threw up their hands and looked to the ceiling.

Upshot- no disability- no medical coverage (until lately), no help of any kind.

I returned to school a few years ago as my brain isn't severely affected- only my body.  I found that with a high enough degree, there are jobs I can do (I can teach and do research, for one thing, as long as I can rest regularly and sit part of the time)- and then just a few months ago I learned that there is a medicine that really helped me with FMS (but one that the doctors never mentioned).  It doesn't stop the pain, but I can work more and when I overdo it- recover after a few minutes rest instead of a week in bed!  The doctors, btw, didn't want to prescribe it/mention it because "You'll get addicted!!!  Turns out my body is such that I DON'T get addicted to it!!!  I went for years without it because of their fear that "You'll get addicted!!!" (Translate- any poor person who needs medicine is apt to abuse it!  WRONG!!!)

The whole medical system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.  Allowing stem cell research is critical for a lot of people (and I'm wholly on board), but it needs to go far beyond that.

I advocate giving doctors training to recognize and resist stereotypical thinking in themselves and in their staff, as well as being taught to be sensitive to the needs of others.   I could go into that more- but it would be almost a book.  Suffice it to say that I've seen many poor people abused by doctors just because they're poor!!!

OH, yeah... I might add that having a chronic illness SIGNIFICANTLY increases the risk of becoming homeless or very poor!!!

People with chronic health problems make up a significant portion of the homeless population.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 11:39:35 AM EST

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