Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HHS Mandate: Cutting through all the misinformation

Offensive political cartoon, but this is exactly how Catholics feel
The word "mandate" has been thrown around a lot lately when it comes to healthcare, so I want to start by defining what I mean. The mandate I'm referring to requires all employers to give their employees health care that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. There are a lot of half truths out there when it comes to this mandate, so I would like to clear some of them up. And then I will tell you what I think.

What is the HHS mandate anyway?

The HHS mandate a product of the ACA. The ACA requires all employers to provide insurance and requires that insurance to cover preventative care. It left it up to Secretary Sebelius and the Obama administration to define what constitutes preventative care. They concluded that birth control and sterilization were part of preventative care. Therefore, all employers are required to have insurance that covers birth control and sterilization.

So, what exactly is the relationship between ACA (aka Obamacare) and the HHS mandate?

The HHS mandate is not part of ACA, but ACA makes the mandate possible. The mandate was added to ACA, it was not part of the original legislation. Therefore, the recent Supreme Court decision about the constitutionality of ACA does not have any affect on the current legal battles about the HHS mandate.

Obama, I'm a democrat, I voted for you. Why do you infringe on my Church?

Isn't there an excemption for religious employers?

Here is the exception:

"The amended interim final regulations specified that, for 
purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has 
the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily 
employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves 
persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit 
Many (in fact, I may argue most) Catholic employers do not qualify under this exemption. Catholic schools, hospitals and charities do not hire Catholics only, do not serve Catholics only, and their main goal is not to spread Catholicism. In the case of Catholic hospitals and charities, their main goal is usually to serve the poor regardless of their faith. I know many Catholic school students who are not Catholic.

What do I think?

I am against birth control, but not for the same reasons as the leaders of my church. Maybe I'll get into that someday, but not today.

My main issue is the HHS' infringement on first amendment rights. I might not know much, but I do know I'm a huge fan of the first amendment. There are two things I live for (other than my husband and baby):

1) writing
2) practicing my Catholic faith

If it wasn't for the first amendment, my head would have been put up on a stake years ago by some crazy dictator.

 Just like this evil girl just did to Santa

The first amendment states:   
 "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or 
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of 
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to 
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The government does infringe on the free exercise of religion when the free exercise is harmful to other people. I don't think that the Catholic Church's stance on birth control is harmful for other people. Catholic employers do have exceptions for women who have a medical necessity for birth control. If there is no medical necessity, supporting birth control would be essentially supporting sex. Sex between unmarried people where artificial birth control measures are used is immoral according to the Catholic Church. Having sex isn't a necessity of life, it's a choice. The Catholic Church refusing to pay for or condone birth control when there is no medical necessity is not robbing anyone of anything they need.

Trying to add some humor.
An analogy I heard a while back goes like this:

Forcing the Church to support birth control is like forcing an Islamic school to serve pork on Fridays.

At first, I found the analogy very offensive. Who in their right mind would equate birth control and halal laws? But as I think about it more, the analogy seems apt. This analogy isn't equating birth control and halal laws. This analogy is equating two things that these religions believe are teachings from God. Just as Muslims feel it is against God's will to eat pork, Catholics feel that it is against God's will to use artificial birth control. According to the First Amendment of our Constitution, the government cannot force a religion to do something that they feel is against God's will.

And if you're going to respond, "Well, 98% of Catholics don't agree with this teaching!" I'm going to have to inform you that your statistic is flawed. The survey that led to that number eliminated all nuns/sisters, all married women, all women who are not sexually active and all women who want to have children. So if you poll only sexually active unmarried women who do not want to have kids, then of course, you'll get the number you want.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Here are some useful links for (admittedly biased) information:

Defense against frequently used arguments for the HHS mandate

Debunking more myths

Women against the ban: The article and the letter

The National Petition

Last, but not least, the official USCCB website (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Has Dean Koontz watched Doctor Who?

I  have recently finished "77 Shadow Street," one of Dean Koontz's most recent novels. I am not the only one to have noticed the similarities between this book and a number of different Doctor Who villains and plots. And I am not only referring to the fact that his villain's catch phrase is "exterminate." Let me show you the many parallels I found between "77 Shadow Street" and the Doctor Who universe. Spoiler alert!

1) The first thing you do come to is the similarity to the Daleks. In various scenes in the book, the TV screen goes wonky and a voice comes out describing the location and the person of whoever is in the room. The voice then anounces, "Exterminate, exterminate."

2) The next parallel I found was in how the characters are transported into the future. It seems as if they and anything that is on their person is transported into the future during a thunderstorm. Just like the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones is transported to the moon in "Smith and Jones."

3) If you do not want the book ruined for you, I advise that you quit reading right now. I'm about to reveal the biggest plot twist. The scary, twisted world that the characters are transported into is caused by the creation of nanorobots. These small machines were created to heal people of their infirmities. They instead run amuck and decide that the world is a better place without people. This plot reminds me of “The Empty Child” where alien "nanogenes" which were made for healing start to heal humans using an incorrect template.

4) The fourth similarity I found is a really general one. This entire book screws with time. Somehow, people are transported into the future to make sure that future never happens. The two scientists responsible for the nanorobots are killed, presumably preventing the nanorobots from being invented. Okay, so how do these people get transported into a future that will not exist? What about the people in the past who were also transported into this hellish future? How could they have gotten killed in a future that will not happen? The past season of Doctor Who has been all about screwing with the concept of time. I have to admit, some of it has been fun, and the rest I've had to suspend disbelief in order to simply enjoy a good story. I had to suspend disbelief for this story as well, because if you think about it too much, your head will hurt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Inconsistent Censorship of Walmart: Fifty Shades of Grey?

As part of it's mission as a family-friendly store, Walmart has an extended history of censoring music, movies, and books. There are some artists that they refuse to carry and there are other artists who have had to release censored versions of their work. Walmart, after all, accounts for 10% of all music sales in the US. They currently refuse to carry any music that has a "parental advisory" sticker.

So, I found it surprising the other day when I was strolling the book section and found stacks and stacks of the latest bestseller, "Fifty Shades of Grey." Knowing that Walmart has also been known to sell censored versions of books, I looked all over the book for any indication that it was censored. It was not!

So, apparently, according to Walmart, lyrics that contain foul language or references to "abortion, homosexuality or Satanism" are not appropriate. But lines like:

“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”

That apparently is family-friendly.

Sources for this article:





Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Give The Aurora Killer What He Wants

"sometimes these kinds of guys get very interested in topping the other guy...one of the problems with media reporting on these issues is...this kind of person wants publicity...they want to be famous." -Robin Zagurski, clinical social worker

I would have to agree with the chorus of voices coming from Aurora, Colorado and around the world. The attention should not be on the killer, but on the victims. I feel that when this kind of event happens again (they are all too common in today's world) we should all agree not to publicize the killer's name. The police does not need to name him or her at the press conference. The media when they inevitably discover the name does not need to release it to the public. Admittedly, it would not serve as a deterrent, these men and women would likely commit their horrible deeds anyway because their problems are far too complex. I feel that not publicizing the killer's name would serve as an act of respect for the victims. If one of the things these people want is notoriety, wouldn't it only make sense to deny it to them? Yes, we need to remember the actions, so we can learn from them and try to prevent them, but we don't need to remember the person behind them.

And I'm not alone in this view (in no particular order):

-James Allen Fox and a number of other criminologists

 -Jon Keller, a news commentator in Boston

-Mike Huckabee (this is a comment on his website about it)

 -Helen Lewis, an editor at New Statesman

-various academic types, including Clayton Cramer

-USA Today columnist David Kopel

-blogger Michelle Konstantinovsky

-well-known Catholic blogger, Mark Shea

-a blogger at St. Catherine of Siena Institute

-President Barack Obama

-the Governor of Colorado

-the community of Aurora, Colorado

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: 'Push Girls' pushes boundries...

...but with self-respect.

Still airs every Monday at 10 pm with encore on Tuesday at 1 am and each episode is followed by a repeat of the week before

This new reality series on the Sundance Channel follows four friends as they deal with the trial and troubles of life in LA.

You aren't going to see tables being tossed or wonton sex on this reality show. I love this show and that is saying something because I rarely watch so-called 'reality' shows. But this is truly a reality show. Showing real life, warts and all.

Of course, they'd never do a reality show about a plain jane housewife like me. All four of these girls are beautiful. One of them has the ho-hum job of a graphic designer. The other three include a dancer and two models.

My favorite one is the dancer. Auti Angel is the eldest in the group and kind of plays the mother or eldest sister role. She supports the others and is there to (lovingly) smack them with reality when needed. She also seems to be the most street smart and experienced. She has a real zest for life and for getting what she wants out of it. But who am I kidding, they all do.


One boundary that this show pushes is that one of the main people is gay. Not scandalizing or flaming or crazy, just gay. Because believe it or not, gay people are normal, too! Apparently this show was really her coming out moment. She is originally from a small town so she was a little worried about repercussions against her family, but as she says in an interview,"...at the end of the day, I have to be me..."(here)

The biggest boundary they push to the breaking point is this: all four of the women are in wheelchairs! Auti, Tiphany (lesbian and model) and Mia (graphic designer) are paraplegic and Angela (other model) is a quadriplegic with limited arm and finger use. All of them except for Mia were car accident victims. Mia was a victim of a health condition. I say "was victims" because it is clear they are not victims anymore.

Left to right: Mia, Auti, Angela and Tiphany

I admit, it did bug me that in the first two episodes they had to completely rehash all of their stories of how they became paralyzed. The second time they went through them, I wondered "why do we have to go through these again?" But I guess that was for people who haven't seen the series from the beginning because you can definitely say that these women don't dwell on their pasts.

'Push Girls' is an unprecedented look into the life of this community which is so often misunderstood and misrepresented. They talk frankly about their troubles, their thoughts and their feelings. They discuss a number of different issues specific to their unique challenges. For example, one episode features a very balanced and enlightening conversation on the use of stem cells. But they also discuss mundane subjects. Relationships and jobs are prominent themes.

They are very inspirational. I don't use a wheelchair and I come away from their show every week feeling like I can take over the world. Seeing these women follow their dreams and live their lives despite everything that life has thrown at them makes you believe anything is possible. I cannot imagine how encouraging it must be for someone who is in a wheelchair to see such an honest and frank look into these women's lives. 

These women are very brave in stepping out of the box and pushing against the norm to let their stories be heard. They put a human face on an experience that many of us can only imagine. They serve as an encouragement for people who are just now finding themselves unable to walk. They inspire us all to be better people and to follow our dreams.

For more info: http://www.sundancechannel.com/push-girls/

Thursday, July 19, 2012

There is Hope: Down Syndrome Revisited

My husband made a good point last night. I'm not the parent of a child with Down Syndrome. So as I follow up, I would like to give you a few links of people who are:







Here are all I could find this morning. I have a feeling there are many more out there, but they are really hard to find.

Adding a new one:


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There is Hope: Down Syndrome and Abortion

I was touched by a picture that was posted by the group "Catholic Church" on Facebook:

In case you can't read the sign this boy is holding, it says:

I may not be perfect but I'm happy. I am God's handiwork and I bear His image. I am blessed. I am the 10% of children born with Down Syndrome who survived Roe v. Wade.

This particular situation is very close to my heart. While in college, I worked for 3 years with the handicapped. I am now married into a family that has three children who have Down Syndrome.

There is no rational reason for this statistic. Let's put aside for a moment the standard debate about whether or not life starts at conception. I'm not here to argue about that. Let's just look at some facts:

What exactly is Down Syndrome?

And why am I calling it Down and not Down's? Down's indicates ownership and seems to imply that Dr. Down had the syndrome. Dr. Down was simply a doctor who was among the first to clinically describe the condition.

Down Syndrome is a condition in which the person has a whole or partial extra chromosome 21. This causes a number of different physical affects, from the characteristic slanted eyes to congenital heart defects to mild/moderate cognitive delays.

It is the single most common chromosomal condition. One out of every 691 babies born in the US has the condition. The chances of having a baby with DS increases with the age of the mother. Since people are having children later in life nowadays, it is estimated that the number of people with DS in the US will only continue to rise.

See the extra 21?

What causes it?

There are three causes:

1) In the vast majority of cases, DS is caused by "Trisomy 21." Basically something goes wrong as either the eggs or the sperm develop causing them to have an extra copy of chromosome 21.

2) In 1% of cases, the problem occurs after fertilization; As the cells of the developing fetus divide and multiply, some of those cells accidentally gain an extra copy of 21. This is called "mosaicism."

3) Another very uncommon cause (about 4% of all cases) is when a parent has a small anomaly in their genes that makes it more likely for them to have a child with DS. In this situation the parent's 21 is attached to another chromosome. This does not cause any problems for the parent, but as gametes are formed, the parent has an increased chance of having a gamete with an extra 21. This cause is called "translocation." "Translocation" is not affected by age, "trisomy 21" and "mosaicism" are.

enough said

How do you find out if your child has it?

There are several tests that can be done prior to birth to determine if a child has DS. To screen for DS, the mother's blood is tested for amounts of different substances and an ultrasound is done to see if the baby has any of the typical markers. These tests have a very high accuracy rate, but they do not diagnose it. To diagnose DS, CVS or aminocentresis is used. Both of these tests are very invasive and carry a very small risk for spontaneous miscarriage. Those tests involve taking a sample and looking at the placenta and the amniotic fluids respectfully. All of these tests are offered to all pregnant women in the United States and the screens are strongly suggested for women over the age 35.

What exactly are the medical issues that children with this condition face?
 -congenital heart defects
-respiratory problems
-hearing problems
-Alzheimer's disease
-childhood leukemia
-thyroid conditions
-intellectual disability

What are the chances of a child with DS having any of these things?

I'm now going to steal wholesale a chart from Wikipedia. From what I have seen elsewhere, I feel that this chart is accurate although I am not familiar with the source the Wikipedia author uses.

Characteristics Percentage[20] Characteristics Percentage[20]
mental retardation 99.8% small teeth 60%
stunted growth 100% flattened nose 60%
atypical fingerprints 90% clinodactyly 52%
separation of the abdominal muscles 80% umbilical hernia 51%
flexible ligaments 80% short neck 50%
hypotonia 80% shortened hands 50%
brachycephaly 75% congenital heart disease 45%
smaller genitalia 75% single transverse palmar crease 45%
eyelid crease 75% Macroglossia (larger tongue) 43%
shortened extremities 70% epicanthal fold 42%
oval palate 69% Strabismus 40%
low-set and rounded ear 60% Brushfield spots (iris) 35%

Now with the numbers on the table, what does this mean in real life?

First of all, these numbers do not mean that the child will have a severely shortened life span. The life expectancy for some one with DS is only 18 years shorter than the average life expectancy (60 years vs. 78). The current DS life expectancy is 35 years longer than it was in 1983, imagine how much more that can be improved in just a few more years. With today's medical knowledge and technology, nearly all of the health issues that face children with DS can be fixed or easily managed.

DS in 1983              DS in 2011           US Average

One of the scary phrases in the chart above is "mental retardation." First of all, while that is the medically correct term, those in the community prefer "intellectually disabled." One needs to keep in mind that this term covers a whole spectrum of realities. A child who needs a little extra time on a test is lumped in with someone who cannot feed themselves with this simple term. Most children with DS are closer to "the child needing extra time" end of the spectrum. In other words, most people with DS are either mildly or moderately intellectually disabled. Most children with DS have the ability with a good education and good medical care to live fully productive, fully normal lives.

I realize that to raise a child with DS will require more time, patience and $$$. There is good news on those fronts as well. Every community in the US has a support group for parents. There you can share with others the whole mess of emotions you are going through and parents have the opportunity to help each other.

Check out the kid on the far left in the Target ad!

Many states have free early-intervention programs that will pay for needed therapies, tests and care up to the age of three. If you are not referred to them by your pediatrician, you can get the information yourself here. (I have personally dealt with the one in NY due to some early concerns about my son and it was a very easy process and they were very helpful.)

After your child turns 3, he or she is guaranteed an education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). "Under IDEA, local school districts must provide "a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment" and an individualized education plan (IEP) for each child." according to this informative site.

Medical care is another big expense. A child with DS qualifies for medicaid and social security benefits. Also, different states and cities have other resources for necessities like specialized equipment. A good site for info written by a mother of children with DS is here.  

My point here: Down Syndrome is not a death sentence. Living with DS is not even a one-way ticket to a difficult life. The only explanation I can see for the statistic above is misinformation and myths which I have tried to help fix here. If you or someone you know is pregnant and the child has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, you, or they, need to know that you are not alone and there is help out there. It will be difficult, but there is hope.

For more info:




Monday, July 16, 2012

The Rare Personal Post

I am sure you have noticed that I have not posted in almost a year. There are a few reasons for this:

1) I had my first child in April. The pregnancy was a tough one toward the end and once he was born I had to adapt to life with a newborn. It cannot be stressed enough: having a child changes everything.

And it's hard to adapt. Don't let anyone sugar-coat it for you. You will miss your pre-baby life. I missed my evenings eating dinner and watching TV with my husband. I thought I had made a big mistake because my own parents had 6 years to enjoy each other before they had children while I got pregnant a month into my marriage. I was angry at myself for getting pregnant. I was grieving for the life I once had.

But you will get over it. Even if you don't fall in love with your child at first sight, it will happen. These feelings of regret or anger don't make you a bad parent. Parenthood is a hard thing to get used to. The hormonal roller-coaster immediately post-birth is a bitch. But it will end. One day you will wake up and be filled with love for that little life laying beside you (because the little bugger refuses to sleep in his own bed). Don't beat yourself up for not being full of joy immediately after birth. It will all be okay. Just be patient with yourself.

My baby boy on the fourth of July. He's wondering what you're doing here.

2) I had other medical issues in addition to the pregnancy.

Prior to this year, I had not had surgery since I was five years old. I vaguely remembered breathing in the gas to knock me out and I had a few disconnected memories of being in the hospital. But I didn't remember much else about the experience of being a patient. This year, I have already had two surgeries (one being the c-section giving birth to my son). Spending so much time in hospitals has reminded me of what it is like being a patient and it has given me perspective in my work as a chaplain. I'm in no hurry to be a patient again any time soon. I don't want to go into a hospital room again this year not in a professional capacity.

Come on, you know you've wanted to do it.

3) I was victim to something that most bloggers can relate to: The hopelessness of writing and no one reading or commenting. It's frustrating to write day after day and feel like no one is listening.

If I had a dollar for every "motivational poster" I found online featuring this exact quote...

It is really depressing, but there are two hopeful ways to look at this situation:

1) It takes forever to develop an audience.

There are motivational blogs ad nauseum to tell you that you aren't going to be an overnight success. I won't add my voice to theirs. You can look around at the world around you and see that it is rare for someone to become famous and respected right off the bat. You need to earn that love and respect. News about you and your work will take time to spread. 

2) As a writer, you should write for the sake of writing.

You didn't start writing just for fame, did you? When you were in elementary school writing short stories instead of playing with the other kids in the playground, I'm sure you did think about being famous one day. That probably wasn't your main motivation, however. You wrote because you didn't feel like you had a choice. You had a story that just had to get out. You wrote because that is what you are, a writer. So, what does it matter if anyone reads your words? You need to write because the words and the ideas need to get out. The audience doesn't make the writer. The act of writing makes the writer.

I resolve to restart this blog starting today. I still have a lot to say. There are interesting things happening in health care ethics that I would like to teach you about (the evolving definition of brain death and the HHS birth control mandate, just to name two). I am entering my last semester as a theology student and I'm sure I will learn things I will want to share. And my new identity as a mother will have certainly an effect on what I write.

There are also three new features I want to start:

- Interviews with people about faith. I started a project a couple years ago interviewing people of various religions and lack of religion about what their personal views were. I heard many fascinating things and learned a lot. Hopefully you will learn as well and have a chance to reflect on your own views.

- Samples of my other writings. I don't just blog, I also write fiction and poetry. I do have book-length projects about motherhood and death and dying.

-Catechesis with a twist. My husband is addicted to cracked.com. He's always sharing with me random factoids he learns on the site. As annoying as he can be, I did have a strike of inspiration. Humor can be a great teaching tool. I'm not a great humor writer, but there are a number of people out in the blogosphere who are. I want to start a site featuring articles teaching about all of the world's religions using oh so slightly offensive humor like what you find on Cracked. E-mail me, bss434@gmail.com, if you are interested in helping make this idea a reality.