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Co-Opting Compassion in the Culture Wars

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published May 12, 2016

Co-Opting Compassion in the Culture Wars

Compassion — or a skewed definition of it — has become one of the left's most insidious weapons in the ongoing culture war. Like so many other arguments that the left makes these days, the notion of "compassion" has been twisted. And conservatives find themselves completely disarmed when this bomb gets dropped.

Oppose men being in little girls' bathrooms? You lack sufficient compassion for transgender people. Think that children do best in a family with a married mother and father? You are uncompassionate to gay people and single parents. Argue that welfare cripples the poor and entrenches them in poverty? How cruel and uncompassionate! Express concern over the United States' porous borders being exploited by those who intend us harm? So uncompassionate to immigrants!

Scientific truth, personal privacy, safety, national security, constitutional rights — nothing survives a confrontation with the left's definition of "compassion."

No one wants to be accused of lacking compassion for others. And so, faced with the prospect of an unrelenting assault if they try to defend their values, conservatives have tended of late to retreat to their bunkers, as if to say, "Fine. I have little control over what others do. So I will simply live my life as I see fit."

But your departure from the public square will not be good enough for the Compassion Police, I'm afraid.

I have written on other occasions that the absurd and protracted fight we have been having over contraception in this country is just the tip of the spear. The Obama administration chose to implement its mandate compelling employers to pay for contraception, calculating pretty much exactly what would follow: So few people truly care about it that most wouldn't fight it. That has, for the most part, been true. Those who have chosen to fight have found themselves at the center of a typical "progressive" firestorm of mockery, humiliation and trumped-up indignation: Religious kooks! How dare you deny women access to health care? How uncompassionate!

I call this situation "absurd" because there is no crisis of lack of access to contraception, which is inexpensive and readily available. But this has never truly been about contraception. The real battle is the one looming over abortion and euthanasia. The lines are being drawn as we speak, and "compassion" will once again be front and center.

There has been a decades-long battle to legalize physician-assisted suicide in this country. Two of the most visible groups campaigning for its adoption are "Compassion in Dying" and "Compassion and Choices." Despite legitimate concerns based upon documented abuses in European countries that have legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia, opponents continue to be demonized as not having sufficient "compassion" for those who are suffering.

Five states in the U.S. — most recently California — have now legalized assisted suicide. Wesley Smith, writing for The Corner blog on National Review, pointed out bias in the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the decision of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California, to opt out of the state's statutory scheme permitting physician-assisted suicide. Smith highlighted the following passage from the Times article:


"Huntington will become one of the largest non-religious medical institutions statewide to turn its back on a law that Gov. Jerry Brown called 'a comfort' to anyone 'dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.'" (Emphasis mine.)

See how that works? If you oppose physician-assisted suicide, no matter what your reasons are, you are "turning your back" on someone who is "dying in prolonged and excruciating pain." This, despite reams of evidence that pain is manageable with proper palliative care, and that the overwhelming majority of terminally ill patients who are considering suicide reject it once their pain is appropriately treated.

Lazarus acknowledges that for religious hospitals (Huntington is not affiliated with any religious denomination), the issue of assisted suicide is "contentious." But, just as we have seen with contraception, religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals — can no longer take their liberties and rights for granted, even in matters as "contentious" as assisted suicide.

Another recent article — this one from The Washington Post — makes quite clear that the "compassion" warriors intend to bring the fight to abortion as well as assisted suicide. On May 5, the Post published an article titled, "Report: 1 in 6 hospital beds in U.S. is in a Catholic institution, restricting reproductive care." As if the title didn't tell you everything you needed to know, the authors solemnly warn that "medical procedures available" to patients "may be dictated by faith." Translation: Catholic doctors will not perform abortions, and Catholic hospitals will not permit abortions to be performed there. The article mentions a few cases in which women were not given abortions and later developed infections. (It does not mention the many cases of infections and other more grievous injuries suffered by women who have had abortions.)

What happens when abortion is a constitutional right, but you can't get anyone to perform them? Why, you file a lawsuit to force them, of course. Ominously, the article cites a number of lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, trying to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. The hospitals' positions are characterized as "discrimination" and in violation of federal law requiring hospitals to provide "emergency care."

Most of these suits have failed, thus far. But it is not difficult to see where this is going: Assisted suicide and abortion will both be argued to be "constitutional rights," the deprivation of which will be against the law. And as a backup to the legal argument, the cultural shame-athon will produce its steady drumbeat of accusations that any doctor or hospital refusing to kill patients "lacks compassion."

The left is not content to convince you. It is not enough to condemn you. They will not cease until they conscript you.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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