Thursday, December 18, 2014

Congratulations Finalists

Thank you to every person who submitted to the Daniel Callahan Young Writers Prize! There were nearly thirty excellent submissions and the five finalists have been chosen. 

Their essays will be read by the following panel of judges:

Daniel Callahan, PhD-- As President Emeritus and co-founder of The Hastings Center, Callahan helped shape the bioethics field. He has written over 47 books and has had hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and op-eds. 

Michael K. Gusmano, PhD-- Gusmano is a a political scientist who holds adjunct appointments at Columbia University and Yale University and is a Research Scholar at The Hastings Center. He has published widely in the areas of health policy, aging, and comparative welfare state analysis.

Laura Haupt, M.A.-- Haupt is the Managing Editor for two peer-reviewed bioethics journals, the Hastings Center Report and IRB: Ethics and Human Research. Her background is in English literature and she has helped edit a number of special reports for the Hastings Center Report, including LGBT Bioethic: Visibility, Disparities, and Dialogue. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Daniel Callahan Young Writer's Prize Finalists

Avigile Baehr, MD/MBE Candidate, University of Pennsylvania
"DNR Ebola: Is There a Professional Obligation to Provide Treatment?"

Michelle Bayefsky, Pre-Doctoral Fellow, NIH Department of Bioethics
"Uterine Transplant: Where, If Anywhere, Should We Draw the Line?"

Rachel Conrad, MD Candidate, Baylor College of Medicine
"The Ethical Crisis in Medical Training"

Michael DiStefano, Research Assistant, University of Pennsylvania
"Religious Values and Refusal of Highly Effective Life-Saving Treatment by Minors"

Tim Rubbelke, PhD Candidate, St. Louis University Center for Healthcare Ethics
"The Paradox of Government Vaccine Mandates" 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We anticipate an announcement of the winner in mid-January. Thank you again to all the participants, we look forward to posting some of the other compelling submissions to this blog in the coming months. There were far more fantastic entries than could be chosen. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Deadline Approaching

The deadline to submit for the Daniel Callahan Young Writer's Prize is this Saturday, November 15th. Below is a summary of the contest and the guidelines for submission. Don't forget to submit!

Prize Summary 
This post is pleased to announce a new award, The Daniel Callahan Young Writer's Prize, sponsored by Daniel Callahan. Submissions will take the form of essays on a bioethics topic that are written as blog posts, designed for this blog, Bioethx Under 25. From all submissions, a group of finalists will be chosen and then an expert panel of bioethicists, including Daniel Callahan, will read the finalists' essays and award one prize amounting to $500. 

All submissions will be considered for publication on the blog and eligibility to be a finalist or receive the prize is dependent on willingness to edit and revise the essay for publication. Submissions will be judged anonymously. Please see guidelines below for further information. 


Prize Submission Guidelines
Essays must be 500-1000 words and original submissions to Bioethx Under 25 i.e. never posted before on the blog. 
- Essays must conform to all other submission guidelines for the Bioethx Under 25 blog and thus, be clearly related to bioethics and be written in an accessible manner. Please refer to the blog's About Page for more information. 
- Essays will be accepted from September 10th, 2014 to November 15th, 2014
- Any writer who is also a student in high school, college, or a graduate program is eligible to submit. Any writer who is not a student is eligible so long as he/she has not completed a PhD and/or worked more than 5 years in the bioethics field with a terminal degree (e.g. JD or MD). So long as the other guidelines have been met there is no age limitation or requirement for submission. 
- Writers are not eligible if they currently or have previously worked full time for The Hastings Center or Daniel Callahan. Anyone affiliated with Bioethx Under 25 in an editing capacity is also ineligible. 
To submit, please email bioethicsunder25@gmail.com with your essay attached in word format. In the body of the email please indicate that you are submitting for The Daniel Callahan Young Writers Prize and include your name, phone number, email address, current occupation and place of occupation (if a student, then your school, potential degree, and expected graduation year), and your highest degree attained with the school and year. 
- For any questions please email bioethicsunder25@gmail.com or comment below. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paws and Talk About Cost

By Chelsea A. Jack

“The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way,” –Peter Singer

Singer has argued for the equitable and fair treatment of animals based on their ability to suffer in ways similar to humans. I wonder if, in some circumstances, ill pets are treated more humanely in times of crisis than their human counterparts.

Daniel Callahan, co-founder of The Hastings Center, has thoughtfully written on how Americans view cost as a morally acceptable factor in decision-making when it comes to the death of a pet, but not always the death of a human loved one.  Veterinary doctors are not only willing to explain a patient’s prognosis, but also the financial costs for a family choosing among various treatment options for their pet. The reason for this seems to be that conversations about end-of-life decision-making come more easily in the context of veterinary care than when the patient in question is a human loved one. Because medical doctors are often reluctant to talk about end-of-life care with their patients, conversations about the financial costs of such care do not occur either. This is not necessarily the case with veterinary care, where, if anything, vets go out of the way to prepare families for the likelihood of death – and its costs. With both human and non-human patients facing illness, the financial costs of care can be startling and deeply upsetting. Callahan has asked how medical doctors might deliver care options to patients in the way his family’s vet did: “beautifully integrat[ing] money, medical candor, and compassion.”

I found myself considering Callahan’s reflection on the death of his own Cavalier King Charles as I sat in the waiting room of the VCA Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in Wappingers Falls, New York a few weeks ago. In no more than three minutes, my beloved 8-month-old Boxer-Pit mix named Trapper – after MASH 4077’s Trapper John, MD – ventured away from me with another canine companion during a cookout with my neighbors. He played leap frog in-between cars speeding down a nearby highway. When I realized he was gone, I ran down to the road with an ominous feeling in my gut. After calling his name for a minute, an adrenaline-charged Trapper came bolting up from the highway and collapsed at my feet completely out of breath. He had deep abrasions along his front-left paw, which was visibly knotted, and, as the adrenaline wore off, he could barely stand, even though he remained stoically silent with his ears back and eyes locked to my face.

I broke every speed limit on the way to the emergency care center where Trapper went into shock and began convulsing. Exchanging worried glances, the nurses quickly carried him away from me into another room where they attempted to stabilize him.

Immediately, but kindly, a nurse presented me with a series of consent forms and unsettling numbers: Was I okay with paying $400-600 to stabilize Trapper? Did I want them to try and resuscitate Trapper if his heart stopped, even if it meant spending $500 on a procedure with a success rate around 17 percent? Did I consent to the three recommended x-rays of his front-left leg, chest, and hips, which would approach $400 – without factoring in the possibility of further x-rays later over the next 24 hours? There was a possibility that Trapper would pass away due to contusions in his lungs – did I want to keep him overnight for monitoring even if that was another $200? Did I want to see the credit plan offered for 12 months without interest for patients who cannot afford expensive high-quality care?

Throughout the whole nightmare, the doctors and nurses presented each decision-making scenario with at least two options: cost projections for the “ideal” treatment plan versus the “less-ideal” treatment plan. As I weighed these projections, I thought how the word “ideal” places a nontrivial degree of guilt onto the decision-maker who opts for the less-ideal options. It problematically values the more costly decision as morally preferable, even when this might not accurately reflect the moral landscape – marked by competing financial obligations – in which real-time decisions are made.

Individuals and families (more often than not) cannot isolate an immediate, short-term moral decision from the other long-term ones lingering in the background. For example, as I weighed the two treatment plans presented to me, I thought, “I have signed a lease committing me to pay $X/month. I love my apartment and cannot legally break this lease agreement, and I cannot emotionally or financially afford to forfeit my living situation even if it means that Trapper has to receive the 'less-ideal' treatment plan". As a recent post-grad, I weighed the costs of fulfilling one long-term goal (i.e. living happily in my new home) against the costs of fulfilling my obligations to care for Trapper as my pet who was facing a health crisis. Committed and interdependent moral agents are forced to make these kinds of decisions every day. In my case, it was productive to not only have Trapper’s physician initiate a conversation about our end-of-life preferences, but also address possible treatment options and possible costs. 

Miraculously, Trapper is expected to make a full recovery and came  home from the emergency care center after 24 hours of observation. I’ll borrow Callahan’s language to describe my own personal take-away from this ordeal: Trapper’s care team embodied those qualities that “we might hope for from a doctor for our care, but by no means yet reliably available” in the human medical context.

Chelsea is a Research Assistant at The Hastings Center. She graduated with highest distinction from the University of Virginia, where she received a B.A. in political and social thought and anthropology with a minor in bioethics. Her research interests include medical and legal anthropology, political and social theory, bioethics, and contemporary feminist thought. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Minor Case for Existentialism in Biosemiotics

By Matthew Cuffaro

“Existentialism protests the rationalism and idealism who would see man creatures only as a subject—that is, as having reality as a thinking being.” p. 12 Angel, Ellenberger, May, Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry in Psychology.

The following argument advocates existentialism in biosemiotics to the reader of this blog—presumably up-and-coming bioethicists—to mull over how an existentialist understanding of biosemiotics is relevant to considering the ethics of medicine and health, environment, etc.

What biosemiotics is, how it can integrate existential thought, and how it relates to the bioethicist is a major concern: the predisposition to think of animal cognition and decision-making as purely genetic impedes our attempts, as organisms “creative past our genes”, to identify with animals, if not the biological world. In fact, you can derive the entire motivation and most of the points from the first page of the preface in J. Hoffmeyer’s Biosemiotics. Hoffmeyer’s writing is beautifully lucid and recommended to the readers, but it will be kept short so the existential argument may be covered.

To begin, the crux of contemporary biosemiotics can be understood as the disbelief that organic communication is merely “mechanical.”

What J. Hoffmeyer, Biosemiotician, offers:

With the current outlook, other organisms remain empathetically inaccessible—they are separated by a gulch of misunderstanding or anthropocentrism. We are still surprised when new research reveals “human” emotions (grieving) in animals. Perhaps the difficulty of stationing “complex” emotions in cultural terms—terms not patently equivalent to a notion of a general animal cultureperpetuates this idea.

Partially the mechanical explanation is to blame from theoretical biology’s honest expedition to resolve the problem.[1] The complete genome is an enticing structure; it is not hard to imagine that a reductive appetency towards a promise of rich structural coding creates a tendency to “delegate to [the animal’s] genetic apparatus” the complete spectrum of their ethology as well. This continually denies the creature the evolutionary merit of having an intellectual middle-man. Hoffmeyer uses this example to describe the creative semiotic faculty of the animal:

“When a brown hare spots a fox approaching in the open landscape, the hare stands bolt upright and signals its presence instead of fleeing…ethologist A. Holley [claims that the] hare can easily scape a fox simply by running – a fact that the fox seems to ‘know.’”.

The hare signals the fox that it has been spotted, and so subverting the actual use of its physiological advantages. The quick legs of the hare begin to have a more symbolic importance to the hare that tries to remove the need of their use.

Perhaps we can assume that a being capable of understanding not just their asset’s advantage, but what the asset means for it, is to imply that the genetic body of the hare is interpreted and communicated to other animals by a being that can experience itself.

The hare capable of interpreting and communicating itself must recognize the significance of itself in sustaining its life. We suppose that the hare has not just experienced life but is capable of commuting its interpretations into actions fundamentally significant to its survival, e.g. signaling the fox. The hare is striving to exist, and so it is exercising a creative faculty to mediate itself with the environment.

To account for the experiential and concomitant existential[2] questions that would crop up if Hoffmeyer and Co.[3] had their way, I sketch in the sand existential biosemiotics (EBS) to take up the burden.
           
What Existential Biosemiotics offers:

The overt task for existential biosemiotics is to extend semiotic theory, or the study of signs—“things that refer to something else”—into the domain of experience. We may formulate this project to coincide Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology with scientific knowledge under a common metalanguage. Hoffmeyer lobs us a notion of biological referentiality to organize the analyses of the organism’s relation to itself. In the case of the hare above, the hare’s reference to itself is tickled by a suppression of its internal or bodily ability to run (which it is genetically equipped to do well) in light of an external threat.

If we take seriously a creative faculty in the animal, then there is, in the fabric of experience, certain semiotic weights that give it shape. The EBStian would deal with identifying the significant[4] structure underlying shaped experience. In other words, how a bundle of signs (e.g. a predator, a potential mate, a hare’s leg, the arrangement of a room) designs the world of the experiencing organism, or รก la Hoffmeyer, how the “ubiquitous intentionality of communicative behavior” is articulated, and how these decisions that govern the total and embodied experience of the creature (e.g. run very fast, a sense of peace in a clean room) have a conjugate physical response (e.g. mad adrenaline rushes through the prairie, muscular relaxation etc.) and vice versa (how does a particular space become associated with my impressions of it, my gut feeling, etc.?).

The biosemiotician in this scope hopes to demonstrate that communicative and behavioral similarities between organisms enriches approaches to interact, understand, and imagine the biological sciences.


Matthew Cuffaro is a philosophy student at the University of South Florida with a concentration in the philosophies of mathematics and religious studies. 



[1] Conway’s Game of Life, for instance, illustrates evolutionary “life” as a series of small-order recursive processes that, with special initial states and a sufficient run-time, can construct superstructures that remind us of genetic transcriptions. Check it out here.
[2] Mind you, “existential” here brackets the organism’s self-consciousness of mortality; “There, organisms never ‘try to survive’–for the simple reason that they cannot know they are going to die.” Instead, viz. generalize “existential” to the organism by its own presumed agency making decisions not to avoid death but to continue life.
[3] Biosemioticians such as Emmeche, Merrill, Rigby, Seboek, Uexkill, &c.
[4] Pertaining to signs. Semiotics may be argued as a science that identifies the significant aspects in a scene caveat emptor, tread lightly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Breaking the Barrier Between Us and Others

By Chelsea A. Jack

Disability scholars aim to socially deconstruct naturalized, or seemingly inevitable and fundamental, understandings of what it means to be able-bodied or disabled.  As is the case with much postmodern writing, disability scholars forward their ideas with a general suspicion toward claims of knowledge fortified by dichotomous relationships, e.g. male/female, nature/culture, disabled/abled. However, this is not to say that actual differences do not exist among different groups of people. It is only to say that the barriers between “us” and “them” are never quite as solid as they appear, and that questioning those barriers allows for reimagined relations among community members.

Here, with disability scholarship as my primary example, I draw on the writings of three feminist scholars across different academic disciplines to show how a self-reflexive style can show the vulnerable relationship between the self and other. Such stylistic choices in favor of self-reflexivity betray the academic mantle of omniscience, or objectivity, that characterize arguments removed from the first person. Further, these choices can encourage reimagined relations with those we might understand as other.

When philosopher Eva Kittay has written against ideal theory in bioethics, she has made a strategically feminist move in her criticism of such theory and its proponents, specifically philosophers Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan: she self-reveals. For example, when she criticized Singer’s and McMahan’s theories concerning necessary cognitive and psychological criteria for the status of moral personhood, Kittay reveals that her own daughter, Sesha, was diagnosed as severely to profoundly retarded. Kittay shares that her own daughter might be counted among those whom McMahan has stipulated as undeserving of justice or life. Kittay purposes the developmental experiences of her own daughter as counterpoints to Singer and McMahan’s arguments that deny severely disabled and congenitally severely mentally retarded (CSMR) persons the status of moral personhood.    

In her own reflections on feminist ethnography, anthropologist Ruth Behar has contemplated the implications of acknowledging the place of “I” in the representations of others. In The Vulnerable Observer, Behar suggests that it makes scholars nervous to “forsake the mantle of omniscience” in favor of revealing personal stories into what we have been taught to think of as the analysis of impersonal social facts (1996:12). Both Behar and Kittay approach their own feminist scholarship with an appreciation for humility. Humility, for Kittay, requires both resisting the impulse to impose your own values on others and acknowledging what you do not know (2009:229). As Kittay writes about her own daughter Sesha, she admits, “What cognitive capacities Sesha possesses I simply do not know, nor do others. And it is hubris to presume” (2009:229). By utilizing a narrative from her own life, Kittay not only values humility as a maxim of ethical theorizing but her argument here is feminist for its ability to respond to the theme of vulnerability and marginality underlying subject-object formation.

When Kittay revealed her own relationship to disability, she created a space for conversation about “the tenuous nature of selfhood,” to borrow phrasing from feminist scholar Karen O’Connell (2005:219). In O’Connell’s analysis of the Romany term for the Holocaust – a term that translates to “the devouring” – she argues that attempts to expel unwanted people (i.e. the disabled, women, Jews) are never successful, since total expulsion is a myth. The existence of the self requires attempts to expel unclean and improper elements (218). In this sense, the constitution of threats to the self represents an exigency for the latter. The self, then, is a very fragile thing. This realization then becomes critical in the analysis of violence toward otherness, whether manifested against disabled people, people of color, or women.

How might self-revealing break down entrenched notions of “we” versus “them”? In what way do hypothetical analogies in ideal theory – such as Singer’s between cognitively impaired people and chimpanzees – reinforce epistemic structures of hierarchy and domination, where moral knowledge rests on obscuring the situated-ness of the author herself – situation meaning the circumstances that formulate our identity, i.e. race, class, gender – and the disturbing absence of disabled people in this theorizing? I personally admire those, such as Behar and Kittay, who betray the academic mantle of omniscience in order to advocate humility and recognize the vulnerability of the self.

Works Cited

Behar, Ruth. 1996. The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Boston: Beacon Press.

Kittay, Eva. 2009. “Ideal theory bioethics and the exclusion of people with severe cognitive disabilities.” In Naturalized Bioethics: Toward Responsible Knowing and Practice, edited by H. Lindemann, 218 – 37. Cambridge.

O’Connell, Karen. 2005. “The devouring: Genetics, abjection, and the limits of Law.” In Ethics of the Body: Postconventional Challenges, edited by Margrit Shildrick and Roxanne Mykitiuk, 217 – 34. MIT. 

Chelsea is a Research Assistant at The Hastings Center. She graduated with highest distinction from the University of Virginia, where she received a B.A. in political and social thought and anthropology with a minor in bioethics. Her research interests include medical and legal anthropology, political and social theory, bioethics, and contemporary feminist thought. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Daniel Callahan Young Writer's Prize

Prize Summary 
This post is pleased to announce a new award, The Daniel Callahan Young Writer's Prize, sponsored by Daniel Callahan. Submissions will take the form of essays on a bioethics topic that are written as blog posts, designed for this blog, Bioethx Under 25. From all submissions, a group of finalists will be chosen and then an expert panel of bioethicists, including Daniel Callahan, will read the finalists' essays and award one prize amounting to $500. 

All submissions will be considered for publication on the blog and eligibility to be a finalist or receive the prize is dependent on willingness to edit and revise the essay for publication. Submissions will be judged anonymously. Please see guidelines below for further information. 


Prize Submission Guidelines
Essays must be 500-1000 words and original submissions to Bioethx Under 25 i.e. never posted before on the blog. 
- Essays must conform to all other submission guidelines for the Bioethx Under 25 blog and thus, be clearly related to bioethics and be written in an accessible manner. Please refer to the blog's About Page for more information. 
- Essays will be accepted from September 10th, 2014 to November 15th, 2014
- Any writer who is also a student in high school, college, or a graduate program is eligible to submit. Any writer who is not a student is eligible so long as he/she has not completed a PhD and/or worked more than 5 years in the bioethics field with a terminal degree (e.g. JD or MD). So long as the other guidelines have been met there is no age limitation or requirement for submission. 
- Writers are not eligible if they currently or have previously worked full time for The Hastings Center or Daniel Callahan. Anyone affiliated with Bioethx Under 25 in an editing capacity is also ineligible. 
To submit, please email bioethicsunder25@gmail.com with your essay attached in word format. In the body of the email please indicate that you are submitting for The Daniel Callahan Young Writers Prize and include your name, phone number, email address, current occupation and place of occupation (if a student, then your school, potential degree, and expected graduation year), and your highest degree attained with the school and year. 
- For any questions please email bioethicsunder25@gmail.com or comment below. 

About Daniel Callahan

Daniel Callahan is Senior Research Scholar and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center. He was its cofounder in 1969 and served as Director and President between 1969 and 1996.  Over the years his research and writing have covered a wide range of issues, from the beginning until the end of life. In recent years, he has focused his attention on ethics and health policy.

He has served as a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Medical School and is now a Senior Scholar at Yale. He received his B.A. from Yale and a PhD in philosophy from Harvard. He has honorary degrees from the Charles University, Prague, the Czech Republic, the University of Colorado, Williams College, Oregon State University, the State University of New York and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Callahan is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences; a former member of the Director’s Advisory Committee, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and of the Advisory Council, Office of Scientific Responsibility, Department of Health and Human Services. He won the 1996 Freedom and Scientific Responsibility Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the editor or author of 47 books. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Hiatus

Bioethx Under 25 is on a summer break and will be back in September with bioethics commentary by young scholars and writers. Please check out our archive for some great reads!

Please email bioethicsunder25@gmail.com if you would like to submit a blog post or topic.

Follow on twitter @BioethxUnder25 for up to date news stories and commentary on medical and environmental ethics.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hobby Lobby and Freedom from Religious Employers

By Naomi Scheinerman

The decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores has been severely scrutinized, from rebukes against corporate personhood to feminists decrying that the Court’s majority, five conservative male judges, devalue and deny women’s personhood. Justice Ginsburg’s scathing dissent and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan’s equally passionate disapproval offer a gendered lens that is impossible to ignore. And further, the Hobby Lobby decision actually does far more harm than good in protecting religious freedoms.

First, Hobby Lobby’s anti-contraception argument relies on fallacious scientific claims that will facilitate further violations of the corporation’s religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby objects to the two IUD’s and Plan B and Ella (emergency contraception) by claiming that using them is akin to having an abortion. This is false. Plan B and Ella prevent ovulation which prevents pregnancy after sex. The International Federation of Gynecology & Obstetrics published a study concluding that because Plan B does not inhibit implantation, it is therefore not an “abortifacient,” a substance that induces abortion. Because Hobby Lobby argued that emergency contraception equals abortions, when in fact emergency contraception does NOT equal abortions, the Court should have thrown out Hobby Lobby’s arguments. As a result of this decision, women who work for Hobby Lobby and are now denied emergency contraception coverage will be much more likely to seek an abortion in their future. Half of women who purchase Plan B do so because of unplanned pregnancy (which includes both consensual and non-consensual sex). Hobby Lobby is paving the way for more abortions, not fewer.

Second, Hobby Lobby’s small closely held corporation’s religious freedoms are being protected at the expense of the freedom from religious imposition on its employees who rely on health insurance to access reproductive freedoms. A closely held company is one in which five or fewer people own the majority of the company. Not only is it strange to treat a corporation as a person with its own convictions, but this decision shows that the Court prefers the religious arguments of a few people in charge over the views of many more who actually work for the corporation. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) – the legislation that Hobby Lobby claimed the contraception mandate violated - was originally enacted to protect Native Americans from laws that burdened their exercise of religion. As such, the RFRA was originally constructed to protect employees from theburdensome religious standards of employers and laws. In fact, Catholic and other Christian denominations were even opposed to the RFRA initially because they thought it would protect the “right to a religiously-motivated abortion.” Even if an employee of Hobby Lobby does not have a religious conviction to use contraception, the employers of Hobby Lobby are imposing their religious views by forcing the employees’ actions to align with their own religious practices that forbid abortions. An individual at Hobby Lobby, who is not one of the five people in the entire corporation who wants to prevent contraceptive access, is burdened, something the RFRA was meant to prevent, not allow.

Third, there is real danger in granting religious freedom to corporations that claim exemptions to laws. In Callahan v. Woods, for example, taxpayers used the RFRA to object to the use of social security numbers, arguing that they related to the “mark of the beast.” The Court dismissed this argument. Since the release of the Hobby Lobby decision, many companies have come out of the woodwork, claiming religious exemption to other laws that ban discrimination in hiring or protect women’s reproductive freedoms. The Court ruled that the religious freedom is protected when the law imposes a “substantial burden” on the corporation. This should be interpreted to what the corporation does (its business and goals) rather than how the five or fewer owners feel about the actions of their employees. Is it a substantial burdensome to the selling of paint and brushes to allow female employees to obtain emergency contraption or an IUD?

My last fear is that real and compelling claims of religious exemption, wherein an employer or employee has a true and ethical, religious  belief that a law severely infringes, will become watered down by the numerous unethical claims. About 90% of all American businesses fit the category of closelyheld.  Corporations should not be in the business of determining the appropriate health care package for employees based on religious convictions when it overrides the individual employees’ values. This places an inordinate amount of control on employees’ actions outside the office, such as their reproductive decisions, something the Supreme Court declared was protected by the right to privacy. Employers should not define employee competency by her personal life decisions, but rather based on qualifications and aptitude for the job. This is why employers should not discriminate against gay applicants and should not dictate the sexual freedom of its female employees. Justice Ginsburg accurate identified the dangers of the Hobby Lobby decision: it validates inordinately unethical claims of religious exemption that employers have no right to make.

Naomi Scheinerman is a Research Assistant at The Hastings Center. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with high honors and in distinction from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she received bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, political science, and Hebrew and Jewish Cultural Studies. She contributes a bi-weekly column on reproductive health.