Saturday, February 11, 2012

Science versus Religion

The recent contraception brouhaha seems to me not so much about a government that might trample the sensibilities of religious leaders but more about the role of religion versus science in making U.S. government policy.

The Institute of Medicine was created to offer disinterested, expert advice on matters of health policy. If my experience over two decades with the organization is any guide, IOM panels are chosen to achieve both deep expertise and balance of positions. Panelists take their tasks very seriously. Reports are vetted to assure quality and lack of bias. And the report on clinical preventive services for women seems to have fit that description.

The report recommends that all women receive contraceptive services. Moreover we know from surveys that 98 percent of American women use contraception at some point of their lives. Moreover, the cost of providing contraceptive services to women who want them is less than the cost to insurers and health service providers of dealing with the complications of pregnancies that arise in women who are denied those services by economic problems.

Leaders of some churches loudly objected by the requirement proposed by the government that all employers contract for health insurance that provides contraceptive services to their employees and do so without co-payments. Their concern was that faith based organizations such as schools and hospitals would be charged for providing services which they believed to be immoral. This became a political hot potato in spite of the fact that conscientious objectors have long been required to pay their taxes knowing that a large portion of those taxes go to pay for a military that they find to be immoral.

So essentially some among us are willing to deny services which the experts say improve health, which 98 percent of women use at some time in their lives, and which will actually save money for the health care system because of their religious beliefs. Note that the Catholic Pope, head of one of the most conservative religious organizations on reproductive health, considers it permissible to use condoms to prevent HIV transmission.

Fortunately the Obama administration seems to have found a way to do the right thing while avoiding the controversy.

No comments: