Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Monday, February 10, 2014

"Distressed Babies," Idiot CEOs and Your Dwindling 401k

By now you've probably heard the story of the Mensa member CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong, and his clunky attempt to blame 401k benefit cuts on a couple of premature babies.  In case you haven't, though, here's the link. Oh, of course he's apologized - publicly, as well as personally to the families of the "distressed babies" involved.  And I'm sure he was sincere (it's amazing how sincere people get when they've just recently made themselves look like a horse's ass in public).  As the mom of one of the "distressed babies" pointed out, the whole point of having health insurance is to be able to use it to get health care.

Born three months premature, the baby in question needed all kinds of health care.  She couldn't breathe on her own and because her skin wasn't fully formed yet, no one could hold her.  On her third day of life she suffered a stroke and almost died.  The hospital gave her a one in three chance of surviving and going home.
Luckily, the little girl made it and is doing all right now, though not without problems (and the ongoing need for health care).  And the resulting social-media outcry that made the CEO apologize also got the AOL benefits package restored to its former glory, whatever that was (I'm a little fuzzy on that).  But can you imagine what would have happened if the parents had decided not to treat their daughter?  If they had just said, "Well, obviously she's not meant to live, and since it's going to cost our health insurance too much money, let's just pull the plug on the ventilator"? The social-media outcry over the CEO's remarks would have been minor in comparison to the hoo ha that would follow that revelation.  

Besides, just saying no to trying to save a premature infant isn't only controversial, it might be against the law.  In 1984, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, called the "Baby Doe amendment", added "medical neglect" to the definition of child abuse for the purposes of receiving federal funds.  The law followed several highly publicized cases of parents deciding not to treat seriously ill infants--ie, just letting nature take its course.  Among other things, the law required hospitals to install hotlines so that any staff member who felt that a child was being "discriminated against" because the parents were refusing surgery or some other procedure could call in the Feds. I am not making this up. If your kid was born with half a heart, missing limbs, unformed genitalia and an intestinal blockage--meaning he couldn't eat, so he might die if one of the other malformations didn't kill him first--you could go to federal prison if you didn't authorize the surgery to unblock the baby's intestines. (And probably to "fix" the genitalia, a controversial issue in itself, and to repair the heart, just arguing that's possible.) In 1986, the appeals court threw out the regulations, but they are still on the books.  Federal courts may not enforce them anymore, but they can still be used by state child welfare departments as part of their justification to seize custody of a newborn that's not being "properly" treated.

And the hospital hotlines? Gone, but not before Federal agents had to crash about a dozen nurseries and demand medical records from maternity nurses who, I'm just thinking, had better things to do at the time.

So you shouldn't treat your extremely premature infant because it might cost too much in health insurance, but if you don't treat your premature infant, you might run afoul of Federal law, not to mention state child welfare departments (a whole different kind of nightmare) and the howls of outrage from Twitter, Facebook and, oh, maybe AOL.  Does anybody else have a problem with letting the people who are closest to the situation--ie, the parents--make the decisions here?  Yeah, I thought some of you might.  Probably the same bunch of you that thought Terri Schiavo's parents should have been allowed to keep her alive forever, even though that wasn't what she wanted and the person closest to her--her husband; says so right there in the Florida state code, not to mention the Bible--made the same decision on her behalf.  The four candidates running for Texas lieutenant governor--the only race that's generating any interest, really--all had conniptions and foamed at the mouth during the first debate when they were asked what they thought of unplugging "life" support to pregnant dead person Marlise Munoz. Obviously, their first actions upon becoming lieutenant governor will be to make sure the law says that dead pregnant women must become zombie mothers and stay on ventilators forever, or at least until their fetuses are "viable." (You know, three months premature.  Like the "distressed baby" that the AOL CEO had such a problem with.)

Billions of dollars in medical bills later, what do we have?  We have two points of view as to how these decisions, and end of life decisions generally, should be made.  I, and a lot of other relatively sane persons, believe that the family members ought to be making the decisions, following the instructions of the person involved, turning to courts and laws for help only if there's some kind of major disagreement between the decision makers.  And then you have the other crowd, the right-to-life conservative generally Republican gang of idiots, who advocate for "small government" and no Federal interference in personal lives, yet who seem to have no problem reaching the long arm of the law all the way into a woman's womb and telling her how to live her life, raise her children and provide them with education and medical care (unless we're talking about state-subsidized health care coverage, and we can't have that).

And I say that as a pro-life Buddhist.  Which should worry you.

Let me just add, in closing, that any woman, non-white person, poor person or basically anybody that's not a rich white guy, who votes Republican, might as well punch himself or herself repeatedly in the face. The last time the Republicans cared about you, you were a fetus.  And yes, I did steal that from a bumper sticker.

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