Life and Death

Considering today is Wednesday, the topic of death seems a fitting one to discuss. Or, rather, the power of life and death. There has been a considerable amount of drama centering around Kim Davis recently and her refusal to issue marriage licenses. Apparently, there is a similar debate occurring about whether doctors in hospitals should be able to deny patients surgeries that violate the religious beliefs of the doctors.

My immediate and gut-wrenching response is to say, “Absolutely not.” Doctors are public servants, and hospitals are secular institutions.

That isn’t strictly accurate, however, as there are hospitals with religious affiliations in the private sector. Generally, those hospitals are affiliated with Catholicism. In a Catholic hospital, I don’t think that doctors should be expected to perform surgeries that violate the tenets of their faith. The hospital is a private religious hospital – it is a holy place. While it may not be a place that I would ever go, I can respect that the people working in that hospital view it as an extension of their church.

There are varied reactions to the idea of a doctor denying a patient a surgery that violates their religious views, but there are two main camps. There’s the “Doctors shouldn’t even be allowed to practice medicine if they aren’t willing to perform procedures that violate their religious beliefs,” side of things, and then there’s the other side, where I stand.

I don’t think it’s right to ask anyone to act in a manner that violates their beliefs – or their code of ethics, for the atheists out there. Once we disrespect a single person in that manner, once we invalidate one person’s set of morality and beliefs, we open ourselves up to the persecution of our own religious paths.

In a secular hospital, doctors can refer patients to other doctors who are willing to perform the procedures they aren’t willing to do themselves. In a non-secular hospital, that isn’t going to happen. When a patient finds themselves in a situation where they need an operation that a non-secular doctor isn’t willing to perform, the burden of responsibility should then transfer to the patient – the responsibility to find someone who is willing to do the procedure without violating their own set of ethics.

However, when I tried to explain this reasoning to someone else earlier today, the response I received was “Only God has the power to decide life and death,” and that set me to thinking. Because I have heard that phrase my entire life, growing up in a Bible Belt and all (I still live in one, frustratingly enough), but I have always dismissed it as ridiculous. To me, it’s equally as ridiculous as saying “God works in mysterious ways.”

I’m aware that both of those phrases refer to the Christian God, but the fact that the person invoked the “power of life and death” really got under my skin. Because that’s one argument I’ve never seen in paganism – whether or not the Gods are the only ones with power over life and death.

Perhaps the reason I’ve never seen that argument is because it’s ridiculous to say it when polytheistic faiths are sacrificial faiths. Yes, we have stopped sacrificing animals (in most parts of the world. I’m aware there are still a few groups who practice animal sacrifice), but the history of the cultures where our traditions originated were rife with sacrifice.

The power of life and death is sacred, yes, but I think it’s ridiculous to say that any God of any faith has complete power over who lives and dies. We sentence people to death every day. Our legal system kills people every day. The fact that there are people out there who have still not acknowledged that about the world we live in irks me.

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