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As Long as We Remember...

December 27, 2007

Warring Cultures

Tony Soltero

Most of us remember the Terri Schiavo story, which raged three years ago or so. She was a woman whose life was hanging by a thread, and whose husband tried to honor her wishes by disconnecting the feeding tube that kept her barely alive. Her doctors had concluded that there was no remaining hope for her recovery.

Not so fast, bellowed a few radical clerics. To shut off her food supply would be a grave desecration of the Culture of Life. And to make their point, the religious right engaged in an all-out media blitz, smearing her husband's character and eventually raising such a ruckus that the Republican-controlled Congress called a special session to directly intervene in the Schiavo situation.

Some have observed that the Schiavo case marked the turning point for the Republican Party's reputation with mainstream, non-fundamentalist Americans, who were horrified that the "small-government" party would go to such extremes to interfere with a family's private decision. Along with Iraq, the Schiavo affair certainly helped lay the groundwork for the GOP's crushing losses in their number in Congress the following year.

But I digress. The point is that keeping Terri Schiavo alive against the most overwhelming odds was the absolute highest priority for the fundamentalist leadership back then; and they spared no effort in advancing and publicizing their cause. Political leaders eagerly jumped on the bandwagon. One might be tempted to express some admiration for the fundamentalists' profound dedication to the Culture of Life, dubious as their stances were on other "life" issues like war, torture, and capital punishment.

But apparently, it was all an act.

Last week, a young woman named Natalie Sarkisyan, stricken with leukemia and in dire need of a liver transplant, had her insurance company deny coverage for what could have been life-saving treatment. The online media picked up the story, and an enormous amount of progressive grassroots pressure was brought upon the insurance carrier, which finally relented and authorized the surgery Miss Sarkisyan's doctors were begging for.

But it was too little, too late young Natalie passed away before the surgery could be performed. She was 16.

This tragedy (which is hardly an isolated case) is an obvious indictment of our health-care system, in which insurance-company bean counters, not medical specialists, make life-or-death decisions. With catastrophic results. The Sarkisyan family played by the rules and never missed a premium; and it was still not enough to get the insurance company to honor its side of the deal. But there's another issue here just as insidious.

Most of the Culture of Life adherents, who agonized and fought so hard for Terri Schiavo, scattered and scurried under their beds when Natalie Sarkisyan needed them. The silence from their leaders was deafening.

Let's recap: A young girl's life is in the balance. She has health insurance, but her provider has denied coverage for the treatment she needs (and which her doctors insisted upon), placing her life in extreme jeopardy.

Her treatment, if completed, would yield a 65% probability of survival far greater than Terri Schiavo's had been. But her insurance company has decided that its profit margins are more important than "taking a chance" to save the young girl's life.

Sounds like a pretty obvious cause for the Culture of Life squads to take up, no?

Well, apparently the fundamentalists' devotion to the Culture of Life isn't quite so absolute after all. Natalie Sarkisyan's plight elicited nothing but big yawns from the James Dobson crowd.

Why was that?

Well, apparently standing up for Natalie Sarkisyan's right to life would have proven inconvenient to the health insurance industry, which doesn't enjoy seeing its massive shortcomings exposed so starkly.

And if there's anything that trumps the Culture of Life for right-wing evangelical leaders, it's the Culture of Profit. By their silence, the televangelists who occupy leadership roles in the religious right have sent a powerful message: human life might be sacred, but making money is even more so.

Is there any stronger piece of evidence that our nation's fundamentalist leaders are nothing but a consortium of frauds? Can we finally admit to ourselves that a significant number of America's Dominionist churches are little more than right-wing political advocacy organizations hiding behind a veneer of religion?

Terri Schiavo was easy. Fighting for her didn't expose the deep flaws in our for-profit health-care system. So the fundies picketed away.

But Natalie Sarkisyan's case raises too many basic questions about health care in America, and, as such, threatens the Culture of Profit. And we know how the Culture of Life stacks up against that.

We should thank America's fundamentalist leaders for finally making their real priorities so unambiguously clear.

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