Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I wasn't going to watch Boston Legal this week...

...but I ended up catching, after all, that episode of Boston Legal, where a pregnant teenager sues the Catholic hospital where she was taken because of a rape, because they wouldn't prescribe the morning after pill, and by the time she was discharged, it was too late for her to get the pill elsewhere.

I was going to skip it, having heard how it ended, and not wanting to get too caught up in another skirmish in the culture war over some fiction (with apologies to DVC opponents), but someone in the house--me, for all I know--set the DVR for it and my roomie decided to watch it while I was already in the room, so I figured I'd see for myself if at least the quirky writing redeemed it. After observing that it seemed a bit weak to inquire about an abortifacient drug called, cryptically, the Morning After Pill, and get turned down on moral grounds, and then not even check with the more accomodating family doctor until after discharge, but in a move worthy of a Stella Award, then goes back to blame the hospital; after observing how contrived, if not implausible, this plot device is, I'm going to cut to the thick.

Long story now ripe for shortening, the defense argued (more coherently than I expected) that the doctor was legally within his rights not to act against his own religion, but the jury decided that hospital policy should not constrain the type of medical treatment a patient could receive.

I'm sorry, but personal morals have to supercede externally imposed professional duties. It is, I would say, a thoroughly American principle, although it's not that parochial. It's the autonomy of self: on the healthy side, it's the dignity of the indivudal--a pacifist can refuse to enter combat, and a soldier can refuse an illegal order; a suspected criminal is given the benefit of the doubt during his trial; a person who is compelled to act wrongly by the authorities is not guilty of that wrong, but has been entrapped by said authorities, who retain the guilt; on the unhealthy side...this kind of stuff. I can quit being a doctor but I can't quit who I am. Funny how the doctor is obligated to subvert his own ethics, but the victim, being a Victim (and I am not here to downplay the ordeals that real rape victims face), never has to compromise. A woman who gets raped has paid enough of a price, I can get behind that idea, although citing "heavy" prices like delaying college to have the baby (by what, one semester?) and battling her incarcerated rapist for custody are, as one of the characters said, tasteless, and as the character should have also said, trivial given the circumstances--but "the customer is always right?" It's pretty much what the verdict amounted to. There could have been better rationales to fall back on...ah, but I'm not going to make their case for them.

Naturally, it's not always as simple as a discrete, autonomous moral agent acting against the collective wisdom of his professional peers or whomever, as sometimes a perfectly civilized man is called to fight for his country, and no honest man who volunteers for military service should be surprised and recalcitrant when given a combat assignment, but we have to leave room for the individual to refuse to comply with something that is completely morally unacceptable to him or her. Not even a jury of "peers" can decide, not merely how someone should do his job, but what the acceptable bounds of someone's job are, unless "peer" actually means "professional colleagues," which is the only standard that would make sense. No one else is qualified. If you don't like the way somebody's doing business, shop elsewhere. If you don't get the service you want someplace, but it's after the fact, and you already knew it, why is suing the smart choice? Because it's a litigious society where you solve every problem that way? Would I be justified in suing Burger King for not having a Big Mac, because I burned too much of my lunch hour waiting in line at the wrong place to go to the right place and try again?

Yes, I realize it's not the same thing by a long shot, but in this one way it's not actually different. An analogy is not false for being weak. Maybe I don't need to say so here, but usually I have to make that point eventually, so...keep it in mind for future reference.

Then, of course, the teenager got an abortion after all. Her comment on the stand early in the episode turned out to be foreshadowing: "I've always been morally opposed to abortion...but I never expected something like this," if I'm remembering it correctly. I'm not sure if the girl's change of heart for the worse is supposed to signal to the viewer how nuanced beginning-of-life issues are to those outside the culture of life, or just suggest that contraception's okay even for reasonable people who oppose abortion (although their language got sloppy, repeatedly mentioning contraception after conception, with the only correction coming from the Catholic doctor on the witness stand), or when push comes to shove, even someone who opposes abortion will get one rather than put up with an inconvenient pregnancy.

I'm not sure if the life issue with the cat on life support was supposed to be a counterpoint to the "A" plot, or not. If I may paraphrase:

Lawyer:"Who...is to say that the spark of a soul is any less important because it resides in the body of a cat?"
Judge:"I am. It's a cat."

How ironic. Even if the judge had ruled in favor of preserving the life of the cat, the contrast of a baby with a pet would only further trivialize the life of the unborn by the act of juxtaposition itself.

Finally, with marginal relevance (so I shall not hesitate to marginalize the relevance of the remainder of this writing, as well) to the cat and to a thread of satire that is apparently increasingly left-leaning--although you should be able to see how tired the propaganda is regardless of your political preferences--Denny and Alan are discussion the former's desire to have the latter euthanize him with a gun. Euthanasia's bad enough, but when Alan refused, Denny gave all sorts of sincere but terrible reasons for justifying the necessity of shooting people, finishing with "Where would we be without guns?" to which Alan replied "Where indeed?"

Bleeding to death from a thousand knife cuts. Incapacitated by concussions from rocks and clubs. Maybe blowing each other up with IEDs. Euthanizing each other with pharmaceuticals.

But at least there wouldn't be any guns.

No comments: