She was dead, of course, by any definition medical science had accepted for the last century. Someone had wired her to a robot doctor, probably during the final stages of the epidemic. It was capable of doing just about anything to keep a patient alive and was not programmed to understand brain death. That was a decision left to the human doctor, when he or she arrived. The doctor had never arrived. The doctor was dead and the thing that had been Charlie's mother lived on…
- John Varley, Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo
And we circle back around to Texas.
Where religious fanaticism blows across the landscape like tumbleweeds.
And where personal freedom is prized above all things … well, unless it goes counter to the evangelical church, in which case your ass belongs to God and your liberty is decided at the hands of the priests.
A year ago, Marlise Muñoz suffered a fatal blood clot. She was fourteen weeks pregnant.
Her husband found her on their kitchen floor in the middle of the night. She was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late, she was clinically dead by every test medical science has – and by every test religion has, for that matter.
Her heart had stopped and Marlise Muñoz had been too long without oxygen, her brain had died.
Now, if you believe in science: it was a tragic and terrible accident.
Medical science progresses, someday if religion doesn’t shut down the research first, we will be able to see this sort of thing coming. Hopefully stop it before it happens. Maybe we’ll even be able to correct it after the fact. But for now, nothing could be done. She was dead.
However, if you believe in the vengeful evangelical God of the Old Testament, well, then the bitch had it coming.
Maybe it was part of The Big Plan and she was destined to die along with her baby right from the day she herself was born. Why? Who knows? It’s not the lab rat’s place to ask why. Tough shit. Too bad, God’s will. Or maybe she’d done something to offend Him. Isn’t that how it goes? Isn’t that what evangelicals threaten us with every single day? Better be good, better toe the line, Lab Rat, or else. Do something to offend God and Whamo! He’ll kill ya and cast you into the fiery Pit. Well, maybe that’s what happened. Hell, maybe the baby pissed God off, maybe it was gay or liberal or something and God took them both out as punishment for that sin.
What’s that? Oh, I’m being offensive? I’m being disrespectful of your beliefs by making them sound just as fucking stupid as they are?
Hmmm. Interesting. You don’t get it both ways. Either you believe in the shit you’re shoveling or you don’t. This is your idiotic belief system, not mine, if you don’t like how it sounds when it’s dragged out into the light of day try to imagine how it sounds to me. Maybe you ought to give some thought to this nonsense before you start threatening the rest of us with it.
And don’t try to pretend that’s not what your religion is saying, because it is, word for word.
Whatever happened, by design or accident, Marlise Muñoz was dead.
She was dead.
Machines kept her body going in a macabre semblance of life, but she was dead. Her baby was dead. Dead.
She’d made her end of life wishes known, to her family, to her husband.
And so, they decided to let her go.
It never occurred to them that it was anybody’s decision to make but theirs.
Imagine then, their surprise and horror when in express defiance of the family's wishes, the hospital refused to pull the plug.
Hospital administrators, religious fanatics in a state run by religious fanatics, cited an obscure Texas law they claimed required them to keep the dead women on life support as a slowly rotting incubator for her unborn child – and no, I’m not being dramatic, she was dead, her body was literally rotting. The fetus was horribly damaged by lack of oxygen, non-viable, and to be "born" would require that the corpse of its mother be kept on mechanical maintenance for at least five months – again, while the woman's body literally rotted away.
No one, not even the demented Mengelesque "medical professionals" who were perpetuating this horror, believed that the fetus would live or be anything other than a grotesquely deformed curiosity.
This travesty became a huge public fight as the state government, lawyers, news agencies, pundits, priests, padres, shamans, Holy Joes, and the ignorant howling mob all intruded into the what should have been a private decision by the grief-stricken family.
I wrote about it here in Decisions and Regrets, in an essay that got me both a personal letter of thanks from one of my favorite and most admired authors and thousands of vitriolic threats and violence-filled message from fanatical religious lunatics who purport to be Christians but are in point of fact no different whatsoever from the intolerant Muslim extremists they revile and despise.
Eventually the court acknowledged reality over unhinged religious fanaticism and Eric Muñoz was allowed to, finally, unplug the corpse of his wife and unborn child.
Then he got to bury his family among the vile and disgusting taunts of so-called Christians who branded him “baby killer” and “murderer” and informed him that they were assigning him a special place in their religion’s hell.
It’s been a year now.
But the religious fanatics just can’t let it go.
I guess that’s what makes them fanatics, no different in spirit from those currently lopping off heads in the Middle East.
Hundreds, thousands, of children have died in the year since Erick Muñoz buried his family.
They’ve died from hunger and from neglect and from poverty and from violence and from abuse and from a lack of medical care.
Nearly every single one of them could have been saved.
But they weren’t.
They weren’t because the very same people who fought to keep a corpse on life support in order to appease their small and vengeful deity do not give a good goddamn about those children.
They could have saved them, they could have fed them, and clothed them, and healed them, as their God commanded them to do, but they didn’t. They refused and stubbornly turned their eyes away.
They’ve passed no laws to save those lives.
And in point of fact, they have worked tirelessly to dismantle what little protections those children currently have, they call it government overreach and socialism and ungodly and they turn children back at the border because they have the wrong color skin and speak the wrong language. Think about that, no really think about that: these people demand that a corpse be kept on maintenance for five months as an incubator, and they demand it in the name of their god and for the supposed sanctity of life. But real live living children? They are turned back from the border every single day by the very same people.
Apparently, their miserable god has no time for the poor and the hungry and the sick.
Their god has no love for children already born.
But oh how He loves the unborn – even the ones He left inside a rotten corpse as part of His big mysterious plan.
So now, instead of saving the millions of children they can, ones whose parents would enthusiastically welcome their help, the fanatics have proposed a new law in Texas.
They want to assign government lawyers to represent a fetus.
I’ll pause for a moment while you contemplate the staggering hypocrisy of people who demand freedom from government intrusion into their own lives, and demand it at the muzzle of a gun no less, who are now promoting a law to literally force government lawyers into a woman’s uterus.
Texas State Representative Matt Krause (R, Of course) has proposed a law that would require the state to assign a lawyer to represent the fetus in cases where the mother is clinically dead and being kept "alive" via life-support.
“You’ll hear what the family wants, and you’ll also give the pre-born child a chance to have a voice in court at that same time,” Krause told the Dallas Morning News.
You’ll hear what the family wants – and then you can just completely dismiss that, because in Krause’s world the family’s wishes are irrelevant.
Krause doesn’t care what the family wants. Religious fanatics care only about their own selfish beliefs and they are perfectly willing to force your compliance with their religion, at gunpoint if necessary. Just like any Ayatollah.
You’ll hear what the family wants – this from one of the very people who thinks that the person legally responsible, the father, the husband, is less qualified to determine the wishes and needs of his own loved ones than a state assigned lawyer with a religious agenda.
You have got to be kidding me.
By definition it is impossible to prove the non-existence of God, but I’ve got to tell you that it seems pretty clear to me that he’s not up there. Because if the God of the Christian bible was up there in the sky looking down and judging us all, then given the number of times hypocrisy is condemned in that very bible, fanatics like Matt Krause would have suffered their own fatal blood clot long ago.
The best evidence that their god doesn’t exist … is them.
Krause and his fanatical cronies in the legislature want to assign a fetus legal representation and where does that end?
These are the same people who repeatedly attempt to create “personhood” laws. Now, how long before they’re investigating every woman who miscarries for negligent homicide?
Because that, that right there, is where this goes.
Because if you believe a father like Erick Muñoz isn’t able to adequately represent or determine what is best for his own unborn child – and a government/church appoint lawyer is – then it follows almost immediately that this situation applies in all cases, not just when the mother is brain dead.
If you follow this line of thinking to its inevitable conclusion, then it’s not long before you realize all fetuses must have their own legal representation independent of the parents.
These people have made it abundantly clear they believe a woman once she becomes pregnant gives up her own right to self-determination. Her husband or legally designed representative is nothing more than a caretaker unable to represent her wishes or that of her “pre-born” child – though, strangely, he can be held legally responsible for the welfare of any existing post-born children.
These people will not be happy until pregnancy becomes a legal condition between mother and fetus, to be negotiated by lawyers and supervised by the state after extensive public debate.
Logically, any mother who miscarries must be investigated for manslaughter, for negligent homicide, for endangering the life of her fetus. Could she have exercised more, should she have been in better shape before getting pregnant? Was she too old, or too young? How about her diet? Her environment? The amount of sleep she gets? Did she clean the cat box? Did she use artificial sweeteners in her caffeinated coffee? What about her medical history and the medical history of her family, did she take that into account? Did she get a genetic screening?
For that matter, what about her choice of mates?
If a husband and father isn’t legally competent to make end-of-life decisions regarding his own child, and a state appointed lawyer is, then why should that same man be allowed to become a father in the first place without church review and sanction?
Is it not the lawyer’s job to represent the client to the very best of his or her ability?
If the baby is born with ADHD or near sightedness or left handed or just plain ugly, can the baby sue its parents through the agency of its state appointed lawyer for not providing the very best possible genetic and environmental advantage? What if the parents make the baby eat strained spinach or let it get diaper rash or fail to burp it promptly? Shouldn’t the baby then demand justice for these things?
If not, why not?
And do you really, and I mean really, given history, believe that some lawyer or religious fanatic wouldn’t try it?
Oh, I’m being silly, am I?
I’m engaged in the slippery slope fallacy, you say?
You think I’ve carried this to ridiculous extremes do you?
Perhaps I have, but then perhaps I haven’t and I’ll remind you that I’m not one who wants to keep a corpse plugged in as an incubator. Look, we’re dealing with religious extremists here, fanatics who’ve demonstrated repeatedly that there is no bridge too far when it comes to their obsession with other people’s lives and reproduction – well, unless it comes to taking care of actual real live children, I mean.
So, you tell me exactly and in no uncertain terms specifically why it won’t in fact come to this. Go on, show me, because:
- In 2009, Nina Buckhalter gave birth to a stillborn baby. Two months later the Lamar County, Mississippi, district attorney brought charges against Buckhalter and a grand jury indicted her for "willfully, unlawfully, feloniously” killing her daughter, “Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence." You see, traces of methamphetamine were detected in Buckhalter's system, and the district attorney argued those drugs caused Hayley Jade's death. There’s no proof of this, but that didn’t keep the state from prosecuting her for murder anyway. Mississippi's manslaughter laws were not intended to apply in cases of stillbirths and miscarriages, but that hasn’t kept fanatical right-to-life advocates from attempting to apply them in such cases. Buckhalter wasn’t the first and she wasn’t the last mother to be tried for murder in such cases.
- In 2010, Utah enacted a law which makes it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage. This law is directed specifically at pregnant women, not third parties who might cause or assist in an illegal abortion or miscarriage. The law was a result of a 17-year-old girl, then seven months pregnant, who paid a man to beat her in an attempt to induce a miscarriage (the attempt was unsuccessful, the baby lived and was put up for adoption). She was initially charged with attempted murder, but the law wouldn’t support that and charges were dropped. So Utah passed a law specifically for this situation, except the way the law is written it can be applied in every situation I suggested above. In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the law makes women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by "reckless behavior.” Since reckless behavior isn’t an exact set of criteria or defined in this law, all the prosecutor needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that might lead to a miscarriage, even if she didn’t intend to lose the pregnancy. Walk outside and slip on the ice, and later suffer a miscarriage, then you could be charged with murder in Utah. I guess you should have bought better boots or stayed indoors. It hasn’t happened yet, but the law is on the books and it was written that way by religious nuts on purpose.
- In 2011, Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin introduced a bill that would have criminalized miscarriages and made abortion in Georgia completely illegal. Not only that, Franklin’s bill would have made both miscarriages and abortions potentially punishable by death. The bill required every miscarriage to be investigated for "prenatal murder," and would have made felons out of any woman who could not legally prove that there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of their miscarriage. The bill did not, however, provide any guidance on what constituted "human involvement." You see the problem, right? It’s Napoleonic Law, the women is guilty of “prenatal murder” unless she can “prove” her innocence – with a potential death penalty as punishment. Think about that. Think about it in the context of the fact that medical science doesn’t know what actually causes a miscarriage in a lot cases. According to studies conducted at The Mayo Clinic, it’s possible nearly a quarter of all conceptions end in miscarriage so early in the process that the woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant, and the best guess as to why this happens is that the fetus isn’t developing normally. Franklin’s law would have literally made that a crime punishable by death.
- Kansas is currently contemplating a law that would make any miscarriage at any stage of a pregnancy reportable to the state for review and possible prosecution. Even the bill’s original author, a republican, will not longer support it because the religious fanatics have taken it beyond all rational bounds. Kansas isn’t the only state to try this, Virginia attempted to pass similar legislation in 2009. And other states are currently contemplating similar laws.
And you can find numerous examples far beyond these.
If you start researching this subject, you’re going to find that you’re sliding down the slippery slope pretty goddamned fast indeed (See example: Franklin et al above) because the fanatics can’t discuss this topic without their obsessive lunacy getting completely out of hand and crawling right up the inside of your reproductive system.
Now, yes, a woman smokes meth while pregnant, maybe we ought to have a way to address that. Sure.
A seventeen year old girl tries to induce a miscarriage by paying somebody to punch her in the stomach? Again, yes, maybe we should have a way to hold her responsible – and get her some help, because only desperate desperate people would do such a thing. Only a frightened desperate young woman who thinks she has no hope and no alternative would do this, so maybe we should give her some hope and some alternatives.
And the kind of help I’m talking about would cost a hell of lot less without intruding on personal liberty than a legion of government appointed uterus lawyers.
This isn’t about protecting life.
This isn’t about saving some fetus or about end of life decisions.
This is about power and control.
This is about religious fanaticism.
This is about forcing compliance with religious beliefs, just the same as any Ayatollah.
For a nation which prides itself on exceptionalism, there is nothing exceptional about that.
The first part of this Essay can be found here: Decisions and Regrets