Sunday, December 11, 2005

Whose Morals?


  1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
  2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
  3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
    Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation
      Amanda Blake is an 18 year old homeschooler. She did not date at all while she was a teenage minor, but waited until she was an adult to start thinking about turning any of her friendships into romances. Her decision exhibits "goodness", "correct behavior", "virtue" and plain old common sense. I don't know of anyone who would disagree with me on calling it a moral choice.

      After her 18th birthday, she thought she might be ready to start thinking about dating. She didn't have any boy in mind, but she thought is was time to start getting prepared for the day when the right boy did come along.

      Even though she was now an adult, she still discussed the matter over with her father, who is her legal guardian. She listened to his advice and got his blessing to get on birth control pills. As an adult she did not need his permission, but as his daughter she valued his counsel and his approval. With his blessing she made an appointment with a local medical clinic for November 21.

      Miss Blake was seen by Dr. Delbert Huelskoetter. When she told him why she had come, she said the doctor "asked me if I was sexually active, and I said, " no," she said. "He then asked me if I planned on getting married, and I said "no" again. He asked me why I needed the birth control pills, and I said I wanted to be prepared. I'd rather not screw up and end up pregnant. I thought I was being responsible. He then gave me a speech about how it was better to wait for marriage with all the diseases out there, but I said "I don't have to." Amanda said the doctor asked about her religious beliefs and whether she went to church. When she said she was Wiccan or pagan, she said the doctor looked "shocked and affronted." He went on to ask her about her career plans, urged her to see a Christian counselor, and finally denied her request for a prescription for birth control pills, she said.

      "I actually started crying," she said. "The way he was saying it, he acted like I was doing something criminal. I felt humiliated and put on the spot. After about 20 minutes he said he wasn't going to give me a prescription. I said if I understood the law correctly, he had to. He said he had taken an oath to do what he knows is right and not what he thinks or believes is right. I said that a lot of people think they know what is right but it's really their personal opinion."

      The clinic charged Mis Blake $68 for the visit, which she paid. As she recieved no exam she has asked for her money back. The clinic refused.

      According to the clinic administrator Warren White, the clinic is a Christian organization, although you would have to go to their website to find that out. Mr. White also said there were other physicians present who would prescribe birth control pills. Miss Blake was not told about them or directed to them.

      Who behaved morally in this story?

      To my mind, Miss Blake is a very moral woman. She waited until she was an adult to date. In this day and age, that's so old-fashioned it's practically Victorian! She is an adult who doesn't plan to become sexually active anytime soon, but considers it prudent to obtain birth control pills just in case. After all, so many things can happen when you start dating, up to and including rape. I commend Ms. Blake for making informed, well reasoned, responsible choices.

      As far as Dr. Huelskoetter is concerned, Miss Blake is immoral. She thinks about sex outside of marriage. She is not a Christian. He doesn't care what reasoning led her to those choices. The choices are wrong, so she is wrong.

      To my mind, Dr. Huelskoetter is immoral. He was asked to perform a service for the good of his patient and the good of the public health. He refused to perform that service, and browbeat his patient instead. He then turned around and charged her for the sevice he did not perform.

      As far as Dr. Huelskoetter is concerned, he is moral. He discouraged a young woman from having premarital sex and counseled her to find Jesus.

      That's a huge perception gap. What's going on here?

      According to Doug Muder the differences in how Americans view morality come down to differences in how we view family. In his essay Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue Muder makes the point that Conservatives tend to view our culture though a lens that sees family as an "Inherited Obligation". You were born with a certain set of obligations that arise from your relationships in regard to other people. As long as you live up to those obligations everything is fine, but you can't ask questions.

      This model has it's good points. You don't have to worry about any existential questions. You know who you are, where you fit in society, and most importantly you know there is theoretically a large network of people you can call upon for help -- as long as you stay in your assigned role and don't question your hereditary obligations. Once people start to question their obligations even if they choose to keep them the whole world will crumble to pieces. In that moment of hesitation, that blink, that soft "why?", Ragnarok begins.

      Social Liberals tend to view the world through the lens of a "Negotiated Commitment" family. You as an adult choose which voluntary commitments you make. You negotiate with the other adults around you how those commitments will be expressed.

      This model gives you a great deal of freedom to decide how you and the adults around you wish to treat each other. The downside is that negotiating those commitments with everyone you meet can be a neverending drain on your time, and you end up with a much smaller network of people you can call personally upon for help.

      Like all dichotomies this example is exagerrated. Still, it's the best model I've seen yet for the current perception gap.

      Such different world-views present a tremendous communication challenge. How do we get both sides understand each other? Unsolvable as the problem seems, people are working on it. Muder addresses the question of how Social Liberals can talk to Social Conservatives about patriotism. Bill Moyers is trying to do the same thing with environmentalism. Now how do we go about bridging the perception gap in speaking about morality in the case above?


      Amanda said...

      Hello Debbie, this is Amanda. I just wanted to thank you for your support. And this marvalous articile! It's very well written, I think. And I am bookmarking your page.
      Thanks again.
      In the Gods,

      JC from NC said...

      I read about this the other day and was pretty outraged by it as well, although yours is the only blog I've seen that looks at it from the viewpoint of red/blue family issues. It reminds me of another article I read quite some time ago (so the details are unfortunately quite fuzzy by now) that pointed out similar differences between views of society -- conservatives tend to take a patriarchal view of society, with the stern father figure laying down The Rules and punishing those that don't conform; whereas liberals tend to take more of a nurturing view of society, where the most privileged help those with the least. Unfortunately I can no longer remember the source, except that I'm pretty sure it was a book not unlike the one you quoted.

      JC from NC said...

      Gah... I just read your links and you in fact link to the article I was trying to remember. Is my face red...

      Anonymous said...

      Time to start sending many, many young women to this guy to ask for birth control. Just be sure not to pay in advance.

      Cavalor Epthith said...

      Very well done.

      Cavalor Epthith
      The Dis Brimstone-Daily Pitchfork
      "Wrap your fish in Dis!"