Jailing doctors who work within the law is a recurring theme in the Bush Administration. So far their efforts in this regard have wasted tax payer's time and money on these crusades, and put some compassionate doctors in jail disrupting their families, professions and their patient's care. Karl Zinsmeister, newly appointed Chief of Domestic Policy to President Bush, said last week that he supported policies that would throw doctors who preform abortions in jail, as reported on The Raw Story and originally on PBS.
Its no surprise that the Bush Adminstration would go to such extremes, they have a clearly stated policy opposing safe and legal abortions and have chosen prohibition as the path, as opposed to prevention.
Zinsmeister is quoted in the transcript as suggesting that jailing doctors simply would help draw boundaries and encourage people over time to make these decisions for themselves, "You do that in a slow organic process by encouraging and teaching and leading people to try to make more socially constructive choices." That quote came toward the end of a rambling answer in which he said, "There are places we have to draw lines and I don't pretend to, you know, have the only answer in this area."
Unfortunately for some doctors that "slow organic process" and discussion of boundaries is a quick trip to jail and very limited confines. It is troubling to think about what it really means to throw a physician in jail, for simply doing what she or he trained to do, and devoted their lives to, having made those choices from a sense of compassion for others.
Earlier this year, the five-year escapade that began with former Attorney General John Ashcroft trying to jail doctors in Oregon for practicing under that state's Death with Dignity law, came to an end. The US Supreme Court over-ruled the Bush Administration's efforts to overturn previous Department of Justice policy, an earlier federal court case, and most importantly, the will of Oregon voters expressed in not one, but two elections. The Bush Administration went to great lengths and considerable expense to jail physicians practicing within the law, and that would have happened had one of the most conservative Supreme Courts in history not prevented it on a 6-3 vote. Was that "judicial activism" or the courts protecting pluralism, democracy and the rule of law?
A conservative Congress tried to over-rule Oregon's law during the Clinton Administration, but when it did, it ran into the medical establishment and the problems doctors already have legally prescribing pain medication because of the fear of DEA lawsuits, or jail time. The threat of investigation alone represents tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, just to prove a doctor was prescribing within the law. Some doctors are behind bars today, awaiting appeal, because they legally prescribed pain medications that triggered a DEA investigation. Are there doctors illegally diverting drugs for illicit consequences? Yes. Is treatment for pain illicit or illegal? No. So why are they behind bars?
Like physicians who practice in Oregon, or physicians anywhere prescribing pain medications legally, abortion is still a legally available medical procedure and polling suggests Americans want it to remain legal.
Medical services and advice from the beginning to the end of life are important life decisions that individuals and families face. No person in pain, no terminally-ill person, and no woman facing a difficult choice about an unintended pregnancy should have to worry more about whether or not their doctor is giving them the best medical counsel and providing safe procedures because of fear of jail. Physicians should be held accountable if they go outside the law, but should not be threatened for working within the law to deliver compassionate care.
Zinsmeister had one thing right, he's not the only one with answers in this arena. In our pluralistic democratic system, instead of ideological solutions that attempt to impose one-size-fits-all values on others through prohibition, threats and fear, we should promote prevention, education and compassion — characteristics of a truly organic process that values and trusts individuals, families and the life decisions they make, not to mention the rule of law.