Morality and Medical Issues, Part 2

Tuesday’s post challenged the notion, debunked by gobs of science, that illness and disability somehow are the results of moral failing. After I posted, I went running–it’s my primary treatment for fibromyalgia and for guarding against a host of other ailments–but I couldn’t escape a nagging feeling about the post.

A few blocks into the run it hit me: I feel guilty about being sick.




I really do believe the God of my understanding isn’t doling out diseases and disabilities as punishment. I absolutely can’t get behind a god who zaps a beautiful baby/child/youth/adult/mother/father/sister/brother/friend/foe with ___ (insert name of a disease or a disability) because he or she or his or her kin didn’t read the bible enough/didn’t attend church enough/wasn’t pure enough/wasn’t repentant enough/ committed some litany of sins. I’d like to think God has better things to do than play whack-a-sinner, although whack-an-a*hole has a certain dark appeal, at least in the abstract.

The problems with the illness and disability as moral failings theory are legion. First, there’s the scientific evidence, which I discussed in yesterday’s post.

Next, I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep track of what’s considered a sin and by whom. I think the biggies are pretty universal, like murder, and yet, there’s war and the death penalty so there’s even grey area with this one. That’s the problem with concepts like sin and morality: there are all these grey areas, all these rationalizations, justifications, conditions. Murder’s wrong, except when it’s state-sanctioned, some say. Others say murder’s wrong unless it’s in self-defense and then others say even that’s wrong.

Some folks think it’s a sin to eat meat on Fridays while others say the sin is eating meat at all. Some say alcohol is sinful while others insist on imbibing it as part of the sacrament of communion. Some folks think premarital kissing is sinful while others say kissing is fine but anything more could land you in spiritual hot water if you aren’t married.

Marriage. Now that’s a subject that can land you in a pickle, but the kind of pickle differs according to which piper’s playing the pickled pepper tune. Sinfulness lurks in every matrimonial corner, begging a host of questions. How many times can you marry or remarry and who can you marry and who can marry you? What has to happen during the ceremony to ensure you won’t end up on the no-spiritual gifts list? What about your intentions regarding offspring, especially if childbearing might not be in your–or the child’s–best interest? The questions go on and on and the answers are as plentiful and as diverse and as controversial as the questions themselves. One man’s happily every after could be another woman’s death everlasting.

Plus, when it comes to linking illness with immorality, what’s the degree of sin required to yield disability? Are the wages of sin paid on a sliding scale? Is every person with cancer a super sinner while those with recurring infections frequent delinquents? Can you do enough to atone for your sins and thus be cured or are some things etched in permanent marker?

It’s all so grey and plaid and cross-hatched and full of one side versus another. It gives me a headache . . . and a heartache. And it makes me disbelieve the folks who say people who are chronically ill are spiritually unfit.

And yet, here I find myself wondering if even a little bit of my health is linked to a less-than sinless past, and if so, which one of my sins is responsible for the celiac disease and which sin’s fruit is fibro? They have to have different sources, I’m thinking, given the diseases activated twenty-plus years apart. Or, maybe they really are because my grandfather ran rum for the Mafia during Prohibition in Jersey City or because he and his father beat up a priest. (They had good reason: the priest locked my grandfather’s little brother in the basement of the church for several hours as punishment for not knowing his Catechism. When my great-grandfather confronted the priest and demanded the little boy, who had missed dinner by this time, be freed, the priest refused so my grandfather and his father knocked sense into the cleric. The little boy finally was freed but my grandfather had to quit school before he finished the 4th grade. Who’s the sinner here?)

The current uproar about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is taking a toll on me in ways I hadn’t recognized until now. It’s personal. Those elected officials and pundits bloviating about who really needs health care and what’s wrong with those of us who can’t seem to get it together enough to stay healthy are talking about me. I’m one of those people for whom the Affordable Care Act was a real game changer. It enabled me to get medical treatment I otherwise couldn’t afford. I still had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for said care, but thousands are more manageable than tens of thousands. When they talk about “those people,” judging “them” for their moral failings and laziness, they’re talking about me.

I’m not perfect. I have made mistakes, some pretty major ones, but I don’t think I’m so sinful I deserve to suffer for the rest of my life, and I don’t believe you deserve to suffer, either. We don’t deserve to be sneered at by suits who think they’re better than us because they clutch more cash in their claws and can spit specious soundbites deep into the shadows cast by a gold-plated dome.

I am doing my best to do as much good as I can with the gifts and talents God has given me–illnesses and disabilities included. I know you are, too. When it hurts too much or I’m too sick to work, which happens, when I’m splat out like a dark-furred cat on a hot July day, it’s not because I’m lazy or I’ve been struck by the devil. It’s because I’m sick and I hurt too much. My gut is twisted not because I’m immoral, but because I’ve been glutened–again–and my intestines are being attacked and damaged in an uncivil war scientists still don’t completely understand.

If morality and health are to be connected at all, let’s remember that we are each other’s keepers, and that whatsoever we do to the least of us, we do to ourselves and we do to the one who created us. Instead of questioning the morality of those of us who are sick, question the morality of turning your back on us. We are you.