Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Everybody's Suing Everybody

Here's an article about an aunt who sued her then-eight-year-old nephew for an over-exuberant greeting at his birthday party that resulted in her breaking her wrist. "I remember him shouting, 'Auntie Jen I love you,'" she testified. The good news is, she's probably not going to have to listen to that anymore.

And here's an article about Mormon missionaries who get sick wanting to sue the church for the missing or inappropriate medical care they received.

First, some observations from my mission. Then some talk of how my experience might not generalize. Then some comments on the article itself.

As a missionary, I served under two mission presidents. Both of their wives took seriously the duty of being a type of surrogate mother. They didn't ration care because of meanspiritedness or an over-reliance on faith over medicine. However, they did take the financial resources of the church to be sacred funds consecrated through the donation of the faithful. In that sense, they did budget, but only like an actual mother budgets. Your mom wouldn't approve just whatever medical expense you think she needed to fund out of the family budget.

I had companions with serious medical conditions who always received the necessary care. As I remember it, you called the mission office, where a particular senior missionary couple was in charge of pre-approval. You'd say you felt like you needed to see a doctor and they would find a doctor in your area that took the correct insurance and then you'd go to the doctor.

Most of the missionaries discussed in this article, however, were in developing nations. I was in the United States. So perhaps such things as "calling the mission office" and "doctors that take insurance" don't generalize. (The article specifies that the church doesn't have health insurance, but I remember having a church health insurance card; maybe that's something that's changed in the long time since I was a missionary.) But what should be common is a mission structure, be it the office missionaries or the president's wife, that cares for the well-being of the missionaries.

It's true that some people have the mistaken opinion that "if I just suffer and work harder, my problems will go away on their own." And if those people get moved into leadership positions, they could be bringing that opinion into the hierarchy where it doesn't belong. But again, my mission structure didn't require me to talk to district leaders, zone leaders, or assistants to the president to get approval for medical care.

Also something from the article I found to be true: mental illness is stigmatized. Of course, that's true everywhere, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable anywhere. The fact that "every able and worthy young man" is often taken to mean "every worthy young man" because what counts as "able" isn't clearly specified is a problem. And if you have mental illness and in your discussions with your parents, doctors, and leaders you decide that you aren't "able," you still face pressure from the people around you who have had no reason to put in that extra attention and who will see your failure to serve as an admission of unworthiness.

That's too bad. But it's also nothing you can control. What others think should be irrelevant. But I know it's not; I feel like I had to lie on the "mental health" questions of the missionary interview for fear I wouldn't be allowed to serve otherwise and I had received insufficient counsel on whether that would have been okay. Should I have gone? I don't know. I only know that my mission has turned out to be one of the biggest obstacles I've had to overcome in my life. But what life is supposed to be devoid of obstacles?

Finally, the article has a lot of little factual inaccuracies that make me question the objectivity of the writer and his subjects. Are "all Mormon men encouraged to embark on their missions at age 18"? No; actually, the announcement of the lower age was clearly stated as being available for those for whom it might be appropriate. (Why do Mormons grant themselves exemptions from some rules, like the Word of Wisdom or appropriate entertainment, but then ignore the exemptions offered to them, like not starting missionary service at age 18?) Anyway, other factual problems include who is senior companion (not the older missionary), commonly told faith promoting rumors aren't doctrine, and missionaries weren't prohibited from gathering mail more than once a month in the late 90s (but things sent through the mission office might be distributed differently from direct mail). But where the article comes closest to the truth is in the section on social stigma, not official disapproval, of mental illness and homosexuality.

Can you sue the church for social stigma, though? I guess the first article shows you can sue anyone for just about anything. And where the official functions of the church are controlled according to that stigma, I guess. I just think that sometimes unfortunate things happen to you and you move on with your life instead of trying to make sure those responsible "are held accountable." Leave it alone.

No comments: