There have been squillions of stories just like this one.
A woman who needs a liver transplant has been told she can get one, paid for by Medicaid. She’s turning it down.
What she wants is to go to a different hospital, in a different state, where the doctors would be willing to do a new, less safe procedure, which better complies with her religious principles.
And for the state to stump up the extra cash and pay for this as well.
A court ruled in favour of the state in February 2010. Apparently this woman’s still been fighting the decision in the 14 months since then, rather than getting her medical issues treated.
The state are already supporting her in every way they could reasonably be expected to. But she’s suing them for “violating her First Amendment rights to exercise her religion” with their decision not to simply give her $250,000, and instead only to give her the medical treatment that she actually needs.
This woman’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and would only accept a “bloodless transplant”, based on a contorted interpretation of a few bizarrely specific Bible verses which this sect believes forbids blood transfusions.
Hemant asks the obvious question: How far does this go? If it violates somebody’s rights not to go out of your way to give them everything they need in order to do things exactly as they say is mandated by their religious beliefs, how far does it go?
If I claim to worship a god who abhors clothes, is it oppressive to insist that I choose between violating my personal doctrine or staying inside all the time? What about if my deity needs to be praised by the consumption of caviar and expensive wine, or if I can only abide by his holy laws in an appropriately respectful manner by headbutting a child, or ritually sacrificing a live animal no smaller than an adult golden retriever every full moon? Should all this be laid on for me, in deference to my religious rights?
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about people’s religious privilege:
Saying “because it’s my religion”, as a legal justification for something, or in any similar circumstances, should carry exactly equivalent weight to saying “because I really, really want to”.
Because that’s all it is saying.
This doesn’t totally trivialise religious conviction. If someone really, really wants something, then that’s worth listening to, if you care about people (which you should). A passionate desire for a particular outcome is a perfectly good reason to consider helping somebody reach that outcome.
But it’s ultimately an entirely personal thing, and calling it religion doesn’t change that.
This person is suffering from a serious medical condition. The political infrastructure in place allows other people to offer to help her with this. If she wants to take the help that’s offered, she’s welcome. If she has personal principles of her own which obstruct her from doing so – something that’s so important to her that, if it comes down to a choice between following these principles and risking death, she’ll still hold to her values – we can all respect her decision to decline help.
But when you start expecting everyone else to jump through hoops, based on nothing more than your own personal preference, that’s where it stops being about your rights. Now you’re just listing extra stuff that you really, really want. Which obligates nobody to comply.
Up to a point, going the extra mile to help you with this is the compassionate thing to do. If you want a vegetarian meal while recovering in hospital, it’s not going to cost anyone much effort to set that up for you. It’d be callous to insist on making you choose between sticking to your principles and not eating meat, or starving yourself for as long as your illness renders you incapable of going outside on your own to get a salad.
But providing a set of meals that conform to your ethics probably isn’t going to cost the state a quarter of a million dollars. As much as I support kindness and accommodation, that’s just not a reasonable thing to expect when so much help is already being offered.
Your commitment to your religion is your commitment, not ours. It’s up to you to decide how much it means to you, and what’s worth sacrificing for it.