The hospital of my birth – Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California – has denied post-partum tubal ligations to more than 50 patients over the last eight years. Against the wishes of both doctors and patients.
As one might guess, this policy of not providing “sterilization services” follows the guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibiting medical procedures which are “intrinsically immoral.” No, that isn’t a typo.
Forget for the moment the controversy over abortion (which at least one California legislator believes caused the current drought). Catholic bishops in the U.S., in a bizarre case of casuistry, believe that having unwanted babies is morally superior to birth control. (Not dissimilarly in much of the developing world Catholic bishops believe that HIV is preferable to the use of condoms.)
Of course an American Civil Liberties Union-sponsored lawsuit is in the works against Mercy Medical Center and its misguided religious benefactors. The defendants will lose in the San Francisco Federal District Court, and I don’t expect them to get much sympathy from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals either.
An incalculable waste of time and money in the defense of a Bronze Age morality of illiterate desert nomads.
Be that as it may, this case got me thinking about my adopted home country of Mexico. Having studied the works of Paz, Guzmán, Villalobos and Michener among many others, and now with over a decade as an expatriate under my belt, it does seem a bit strange how far ahead culturally conservative Mexico is on social and health issues.
Mexico encompasses such a complex amalgam of ideas and attitudes that almost any general statement about Mexican society is bound to be wrong – exceptions perforating any thesis before it can even be memorialized. But a close look at empirical studies, historical fact and polling data can be illustrative of a culture that values pragmatism above ideology. (If Benjamin Franklin were alive he would surely be a Mexicophile).
Our very Catholic doctor at our very Catholic hospital here in Chihuahua performed a tubal ligation on my wife after the delivery via C-section of our second child. No fuss. No hand-wringing. No prayers and no counseling. No genital mutilation of our beautiful baby boy either.
Why? Because Mexico can’t afford the luxury of dogma and fundamentalism. Small families live better.
Mexico is an extraordinarily homogeneous country. And homogeneous countries tend to be both insular and culturally conservative. A 2012 study by the Journal of Human Genetics confirmed that 93% of the population is mestizo. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion with 82.7% of the population adhering, at least nominally, to the faith.
Yet, as byzantine as the Mexican legal system is, the Supreme Court has granted the right of gay couples to challenge state laws banning same-sex marriage, and ruled that the use of cannabis is a fundamental human right.
Despite this, two-thirds of the population are against decriminalizing marijuana, 44% oppose same-sex marriage and polling suggests that 70% of Mexicans disapprove of body art such as tattoos. Yet these opinions don’t translate into public policy.
The answer is easy: a beautiful indifference to dogma.
Opinions are, after all, like assholes – everybody has one, and Mexicans realize the ephemerality of opinion. While you might notice mass protests against endemic political corruption and violence, you won’t see many protests outside abortion clinics or the coopting of school districts to teach creation “science.”
Indeed the Catholic church has adopted evolution by natural selection as a scientific fact (for the scientifically literate the use of the word “theory” is still employed as it is with the “theory” of gravitation).
Sure, silly debates about when the human soul entered the evolutionary picture are still had behind Vatican walls, but Mexico marches on, apathetic to the sophistic musings of elderly virgins.
On New Year’s Day we took a family road trip through the deserted back roads in the state of Chihuahua. Two locations stood out to me. One was the Cueva de Comanche where pre-hispanic petroglyphs, having survived five millennia, can still be seen. The other was the Misión de Santa María de Cuevas constructed in 1671.
Both were fascinating and instructive on many levels. And both have been rightfully relegated to the distant past of the belief in the supernatural. If you can, you should visit them. They should be preserved for posterity.
But they are not the future. They are the past. Mexicans realize this. Too many Americans, though, do not.
Much has changed since the fertile mind of Octavio Paz constructed his Labyrinth of Solitude. Traditionally backward-looking Mexican society evolved to become forward-looking. American society has in many ways, and by many turns, regressed. We increasingly look to the pre-literate world of our ancestors for answers that are more easily and more accurately answerable by science.
We are, as it is, at an historical crossroads between history, culture, science and geopolitics. This intersection is confusing and congested. There are so many choices on which way to go. Following the hopelessly long and winding road back to some non-existent Norman Rockwell America seems to me like a poor choice – sleepwalking toward a sunless sea.
There is, of course, a place for personal beliefs. There are some 320,000 churches in the U.S., 100,000 in Mexico, and countless private homes where families can practice their comforting religious rituals.
Opening up the public sector – whether hospitals or schools – to dogma, is at best a bad option. Mexicans intuitively recognize this.
Overwhelmingly Catholic and underwhelmingly devout, Mexican Catholics have placed their religious beliefs on the shelf of cultural patrimony where it properly belongs, far from the table of public policy.
Glen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua, a specialist in law and public policy and a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily.