Why basic philosophy should be offered in high school

Whenever I consider any ethical issue dealing with health care, I always refer back to my days in various philosophy courses, especially Bioethics. It helps to clarify a lot of issues, including ones that happen to be topical. For instance, some conservatives have said Sandra Fluke would have us all pay for her to have sex. This is a mischaracterization of the issue. Requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive care for women is good public policy. Countries with poor birth control tend to do poorly in neonatal, infant, child, and maternal health indicators. Just look at the trends.

I recently did a little research on Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Some of the stats I found were much better than expected. They were still awful, especially as compared to Sweden, but I figured I would see worse. For instance, whereas Haiti and Tanzania have a maternal mortality rate of 652 and 497 per 100,000 live births respectively, Nicaragua ‘only’ has 103. That’s incredible. (Sweden has 4.6 and the U.S. has 17.) There are a number of factors which contribute to this, including a relatively high number of births attended by medical professionals, but one major factor is certainly high contraceptive use. The nation finds itself in league with developed nations at around 72% use. This lowers the birth rate (2.6 per woman in Nicaragua, 1.9 in Sweden), and makes medical care much more available. It is clearly good policy to lower birth rates. (Again, watch the video I posted.) The more population growth is controlled, the better off most nation’s will be.

So, to go back to Fluke, we aren’t paying for her or anyone else to have sex. What we’re doing is making a smart investment in the future. Such an investment will pay off especially well for minorities and poorer people – which, in turn, pays off well for everyone else because once a nation raises up its poor, it improves everyone’s lot in life. (Don’t you think employers would like to fill the 2 million job openings in the U.S. that Americans aren’t educated well enough to perform?)

Another argument in favor of requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive care is that there are other health issues which birth control address. For instance, a woman may be given the pill for the control of cysts. Few people seem to have a problem with this, thus making this a much more popular argument than my first one (though I believe my first one is far stronger). Seeing the popularity of this argument, however, one conservative lawmaker from Arizona has a monumentally stupid idea:

The current law states that birth control is covered under health insurance plans for women in Arizona for contraceptive purposes as well as health concerns. However, the new birth control bill, House Bill 2625, states that women who want their birth control pill to be covered by their insurance plans must verify its purpose to be solely for medical reasons and not to prevent pregnancy. The bill would grant employers to deny female employees the right to be covered based on religious beliefs.

Our old friend Roxeanne (who is currently getting embarrassed in the comments) has thrown in her 2 cents:

The return volley is from [lawmaker] Debbie Lesko: woman, office-holder, Majority Whip, survivor of domestic violence, and totally against forcing Catholic institutions and small businesses to pay for the sex lives of their employees, but understanding that woman with PCOS shouldn’t be penalised because her disease is often treated with a pharmaceutical that is used for recreation, not medicine. The solution? Enable religious institutions to not pay for contraception qua contraception, but allow them to require proof of use for non-contraceptive purposes.

From the freak-out, you would have thought that she asked women to join brothels. The freak-out is all they have left.

It’s stuff like this from conservatives like Lesko and Roxeanne that inspire titles like the one I have for this post. Let’s examine this all just a little bit more.

First, these people are mischaracterizing the argument. It’s just good public policy to require insurance companies cover contraceptive care. Second, even if we only consider the argument that birth control has other uses, this just boils down to an invasion of privacy. Telling women that they must disclose their health issues to employers runs directly counter to the idea that one’s medical history is between one’s self and one’s doctor. Saying, “If you want this pill, you must tell a third, non-medical party why” is hardly in line with modern Western thinking.

If people like Roxeanne, Lesko, and other conservatives had any sense about them, they would have dug deeper into the arguments. Instead they have all just stopped at addressing one concern without paying any attention to the consequences of their ‘solution’. That’s like playing chess and not looking ahead to the next move because the immediate move puts your opponent in check.

Being a person who frequently gets into debates, I see this sort of thinking all the time. Time and again, people who aren’t familiar with philosophical thinking will get in over their heads and make bad arguments. “We should do X!” might seem to fly at first, but chances are there’s something wrong with it when Y and Z haven’t even been considered. If more high schools required students to become familiar with how philosophy works, that would translate into a smarter populace that would be able to debate intelligently.

This stuff just isn’t that hard.

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2 Responses

  1. A few questions for you.

    1. You think a shrinking population (less then 2.1 children per woman) is good public policy? It almost universally means tepid or non-existent growth. Look at the countries where 2.1 children aren’t born, half the countries in Europe have been trying for years to increase their birth rate. There is a compelling case for “good public policy” is things that boost baby making. I’m not saying there isn’t a good case for trying to level off or decrease population, but it just isn’t cut and dried.

    2. If we are just going to start mandating everything, “good public policy” is going to be inseparable from bad.

    3. It also isn’t outrageous to ask why one person should have to contribute money for others sexual choices. Why not try some other things to lower the already pretty reasonable cost, like cutting out the doctor, and letting pharmacies screen for potential problems.

    4. I’m not going to be convinced that the $9/mo. charged by both wal-mart and target practically nationwide, is an undue burden that requires some sort of government intervention. Most people likely pay more then that for their over the counter medicines each month.

    Just so we are clear, I don’t have a problem with insurers covering birth control. I could even get by my reservations about requiring insurers to at least provide this coverage optionally for a fee. What I have a problem with is is requiring insurers and/or businesses to give away a service for nothing in return.

    In any event, even if something would be positive for society as a whole, it doesn’t automatically follow that the government should be mandating free lunches. So in cases where it isn’t medically necessary to be taking them (you noted there are other uses) the government is mandating elective medicine. Where is the breast enlargement coverage mandate? Nose jobs? Butt implants?

  2. 1. It is good policy to control birth rates. That doesn’t mean a 1.0 birth rate is therefore good. It just means that one of the first steps to improving the health of poorer nations is decreasing the number of children mothers have. For wealthier nations, it means we need to shoot for a particular range. And yes, some nations are currently too low. For the United States, that is not the case amongst the underclass.

    3. It isn’t outrageous to ask that. It also isn’t outrageous for Roxeanne to take a look at the idea from Arizona. What is awful, though, is to come up with a solution and then pretend like any problems which arise from that are irrelevant. (Or, perhaps in Roxeanne’s case, not even be aware that there are consequential problems.)

    4. No one is trying to convince you that $9 is an undue burden (though, for some, that may be the case). Sandra Fluke’s numbers are pretty accurate on the high end of things. It would be like you saying that a 12 pack of beer can cost you around $16-18 dollars and someone calling you a liar because they found 140 cans of Schlitz for $4. (I may be overpricing the stuff.)

    I understand you have certain objections to any sort of mandate, but what I’m talking about here is a complete failure on the part of some to think critically about their suggestions.

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