Friday, February 03, 2006
Today, Bono addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., reaching across divides to ask policy makers and faith leaders to do more to beat global AIDS and extreme poverty and calling on the U.S. to give an additional 1% of the budget to this fight.
Should the U.S. take Bono’s advice and devote an additional 1% to beating AIDS and poverty? Vote in an online poll now!
Read more about the event on the ONE.ORG blog.
In a statement today, Bono said: "It must be an emergency when an Irish rock star is being invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast and the House Democrat annual retreat all on the same day. And it is. Because in this long day 6,500 Africans will die of AIDS and 110 million kids won't get to go to school. The good news is that politicians on both sides, and more importantly the people who elect them, are all joining as ONE against AIDS and the extreme poverty in which it thrives. The great news will be when the effective programs to beat AIDS and extreme poverty are finally fully funded."
The ONE Team
Now, via and thanks to her friend John, who works for DATA (which works on the ONE campaign and was founded by Bobby Shriver and Bono), she's forwarded me Bono's actual comments, which we all thought would be relevant to share here.
REMARKS AT THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST
2 February 2006
Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests…
Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.
That was for the FCC.
If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.
Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.
Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?
You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .
Mr. President, are you sure about this?
It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.
I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.
I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.
I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.
Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.
I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.
For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…
I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.
Even though I was a believer.
Perhaps because I was a believer.
I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)
Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.
What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?
I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…
‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’
It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he’s met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in public before…
When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)
What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.
So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.
But then my cynicism got another helping hand.
It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.
Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!
But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.
Love was on the move.
Mercy was on the move.
God was on the move.
Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!
Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!
Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!
Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.
It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.
When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.
I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.
Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.
I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”
It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.
Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.
In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.
Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.
But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.
And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.
Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.
And that’s too bad.
Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.
But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.
Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.
It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.
You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”
And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”
“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”
So on we go with our journey of equality.
On we go in the pursuit of justice.
We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.
We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.
Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.
And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.
That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?
As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.
God will not accept that.
Mine won’t, at least. Will yours?
I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.
This is a dangerous idea I’ve put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.
And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.
But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.
This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.
‘Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)
Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.
That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.
A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…
And this wise man said: stop.
He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.
Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.
Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.
And that is what He’s calling us to do.
I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.
Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:
I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.
What is one percent?
One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.
One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.
One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.
America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.
One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.
These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.
Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices.
But I can tell you this:
To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.
There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.
I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.
History, like God, is watching what we do.
Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all. From the New York Times...
Democrats Call for Special Prosecutor in Lobbying Case
By Philip Shenon
The New York Times
Thursday 02 February 2006
Washington - Most Senate Democrats called on the Justice Department today to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the criminal investigation centered on the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt members of Congress and other public officials.
The 35 Democrats and Senator James Jeffords of Vermont, an independent, said in a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that an outside prosecutor was needed because of "Mr. Abramoff's significant ties to Republican leadership in Congress and allegations of improper activity involving administration officials."
The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he signed the letter because "we need an independent investigation, not a whitewash led by Attorney General Gonzales, President Bush's best friend." He added in a statement, "President Bush has worn out his credibility with the American people yet he continues to stonewall an investigation into his involvement with Jack Abramoff, asking him to trust him without explaining why."
He was referring to President Bush's comments at a news conference last week in which he said he could not recall ever meeting Mr. Abramoff, a major fund-raiser in Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.
The Justice Department had no immediate response to the senators' request but in the past has rebuffed calls for a special prosecutor, saying that the department had demonstrated that it is pursuing the investigation aggressively. The call for a special prosecutor was first made last week by two of the Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
The letter today noted that the chief investigator in the case, Noel Hillman, the head of the department's Public Integrity division, was stepping down after the announcement last week that he was being nominated by the White House to a federal judgeship in New Jersey.
His departure, which creates a vacancy at the top of the inquiry less than a month after Mr. Abramoff's guilty plea, means that the "appointment of a special counsel at this point in time is made even more appropriate," the letter said.
The calls for a special prosecutor came as Democrats made a separate effort on the Senate floor today to bring attention to Mr. Abramoff and his ties to the White House. They introduced an amendment to a budget bill that called on the White House to provide a public account of meetings that Mr. Abramoff may have had with Mr. Bush, his staff or others in the executive branch.
Democratic Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because of staff rules that bar them from commenting publicly, said they had little expectation that the amendment would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. But they said Democrats were still eager to bring attention to the issue.
"If the president has nothing to hide, there shouldn't be a problem," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and one of the amendment's sponsors. Another sponsor, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, said that "the claim that the president doesn't know Mr. Abramoff doesn't seem to hold water."
Senator Lautenberg, who also signed the letter seeking a special prosecutor, had supported Mr. Hillman for the judicial appointment in New Jersey, and discussions about the nomination have been under way since last year.
The senator's chief counsel, Dan Katz, said that Senator Lautenberg "has supported Noel Hillman for a judgeship for almost a year and didn't think he should be denied the opportunity because he is doing a good job in his current position." But with Mr. Hillman gone, he said, the senator supports a special prosecutor because he "believes this case has become too politically sensitive to continue within the administration."
Thursday, February 02, 2006Heckuva job.
BAGHDAD — The centerpiece of a $786 million plan to modernize Iraq's health care system has stalled amid spiraling costs and insurgent threats, jeopardizing one of the country's most ambitious reconstruction projects.
Initial plans called for completing 180 medical clinics by December 2005, but only four are finished, said Ammar al-Saffar, Iraq's deputy health minister. None has opened.
The plans have been scaled back to 142 clinics, but at the current pace the project may shrink further, said Jon Bowersox, senior U.S. consultant for health care reconstruction in Iraq. Only 94 of the facilities are more than half finished. “It's been slower than we anticipated,” he said. “It's behind schedule.”
The delays reflect a broader problem facing U.S.-funded reconstruction in Iraq. Congress approved $18.4 billion for Iraq reconstruction in November 2003, but by the following year, nearly one-third of the money had been diverted to help train and equip Iraq's security forces as the insurgency gained steam. Some projects were canceled, others scaled back.
A report released last week by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said 49 of 136 planned water and sewage projects will be completed and about 300 of an initial 425 projects to provide better electricity will be finished.
Because Iraq's health care network is in bad shape, it was a top U.S. reconstruction priority. The U.S. government tried to protect it from some of the cuts that other programs faced.
Only $7 million of the $793 million originally earmarked for health care was diverted to security. Even so, the project couldn't be insulated from the rising costs of construction materials in Iraq and securing construction sites, Bowersox said.
Construction on two health care centers in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City has been suspended for nearly a month because of threats against construction workers, he said.
Rebuilding Iraq is a critical part of U.S. strategy to win public support and undermine backing for the insurgency. “If (the number of centers) will be reduced once more, it'll be a big blow to our ambitions and our promises,” al-Saffar said. “We promised our people.”
The newest hospitals in Iraq are 20 years old. Some facilities date to the 1960s. Many of Iraq's 270 hospitals are frequently overflowing with victims of car bombings and other attacks.
Baghdad's Al-Kindi Hospital cares for an average of 300 patients per day, said Salwan Akram, a surgeon at the hospital. The number of patients surges after a car bombing or similar attack, which overwhelms the hospital's trauma center, he said.
The proposed network of clinics would provide health care to Iraqis across the country, not just in the cities, where most hospitals are concentrated.
“It's the core of their health care system,” Naeema Al-Gasseer, the World Health Organization representative for Iraq, said about the proposed centers. “We cannot build hospitals in every single district of Iraq. But (we) could have primary health clinics that reach people.”
Tuesday, January 31, 2006milestone in the steady erosion of the America we all grew up with...
Oh, also, please note the obvious bias in the bolded section. Nice, CNN, real nice.
Senate confirms Alito to the Supreme Court
Tuesday, January 31, 2006; Posted: 11:24 a.m. EST (16:24 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate confirmed Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court on Tuesday by a vote of 58-42, a day after an attempt by some Democratic senators to block his nomination fizzled.
Alito, who will be the court's 110th justice, will be sworn into office across the street from the Capitol at the Supreme Court, just hours before President Bush's State of the Union address. He will then join Chief Justice John Roberts in the House chamber for Tuesday night's speech. Judge Alito will be ceremonially sworn into office Wednesday in the East Room of the White House.
Alito watched the Senate vote from the Roosevelt Room of the White House with President Bush and his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner.
Alito's supporters in the Senate, as expected, cleared the final roadblock Monday when senators, by a vote of 72-25, decided to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote, rebuffing an attempt by a cadre of liberal senators to talk the nomination to death. article. Hmmm I have been much cleaner lately...
Contagious obesity? Identifying the human adenoviruses that may make us fat
Submitted by BJS on Mon, 2006-01-30 05:14.
There is a lot of good advice to help us avoid becoming obese, such as "Eat less," and "Exercise." But here's a new and surprising piece of advice based on a promising area of obesity research: "Wash your hands."
There is accumulating evidence that certain viruses may cause obesity, in essence making obesity contagious, according to Leah D. Whigham, the lead researcher in a new study, "Adipogenic potential of multiple human adenoviruses in vivo and in vitro in animals," in the January issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology published by the American Physiological Society.
The study, by Whigham, Barbara A. Israel and Richard L. Atkinson, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that the human adenovirus Ad-37 causes obesity in chickens. This finding builds on studies that two related viruses, Ad-36 and Ad-5, also cause obesity in animals.
Moreover, Ad-36 has been associated with human obesity, leading researchers to suspect that Ad-37 also may be implicated in human obesity. Whigham said more research is needed to find out if Ad-37 causes obesity in humans. One study was inconclusive, because only a handful of people showed evidence of infection with Ad-37 � not enough people to draw any conclusions, she said. Ad-37, Ad-36 and Ad-5 are part of a family of approximately 50 viruses known as human adenoviruses.
Researchers now must:
* identify the viruses that cause human obesity
* devise a screening test to identify people who are infected
* develop a vaccine
Screening test and vaccine still a long way off
The Whigham et al. study prompted an editorial in the same issue of AJP-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology by Frank Greenway, professor in the Department of Clinical Trials, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.
"If Ad-36 is responsible for a significant portion of human obesity, the logical therapeutic intervention would be to develop a vaccine to prevent future infections," Greenway wrote. "If a vaccine were to be developed, one would want to ensure that all the serotypes of human adenoviruses responsible for human obesity were covered in the vaccine."
"If one could predict the potential of an adenovirus to cause human obesity by using an in vitro assay or even by animal testing, screening of the approximately 50 human adenoviruses might be accelerated, shortening the time required for vaccine formulation," Greenway wrote. "Human antibody prevalence in obese and lean human populations appears to be the only reliable method to screen adenoviruses for their potential to cause obesity in humans at the present time," he noted.
Monday, January 30, 2006The monster continues to grow as conservatives have found their new wedge issue, served with a side-order of "freedom", but freedom, in this case, meaning freedom of a one-way street. They are taking away the employers' freedom to fire these people and taking away the freedom of patients to make their own calls about what medicine to take.
If I get a job at McDonalds can I have legal protection from being fired if I refuse to clean the bathroom... for moral reasons? Or if I work at McDonalds and decide to be a Vegan and refuse to sell hamburgers, can I get the government to protect my conscience property? Perhaps these doctors/nurses/etc shouldn't be in a line of work that could possibly mean they have to violate their "morals." Next we are going to see Christian Scientists entering medical school so they can refuse to prescribe any medicine at all. My religion trumps your right to make medical decisions for yourself.
Health Workers' Choice Debated
Proposals Back Right Not to Treat
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006; A01
More than a dozen states are considering new laws to protect health workers who do not want to provide care that conflicts with their personal beliefs, a surge of legislation that reflects the intensifying tension between asserting individual religious values and defending patients' rights.
About half of the proposals would shield pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and "morning-after" pills because they believe the drugs cause abortions. But many are far broader measures that would shelter a doctor, nurse, aide, technician or other employee who objects to any therapy. That might include in-vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cells and perhaps even providing treatment to gays and lesbians.
Because many legislatures have just convened, advocates on both sides are predicting that the number debating such proposals will increase. At least 18 states are already considering 36 bills.
"It's already a very hot issue," said Edward R. Martin Jr. of the Americans United for Life, who is advising legislators around the country pushing such bills. "I think it's going to get even hotter, for lots of reasons and in lots of places."
The flurry of political activity is being welcomed by conservative groups that consider it crucial to prevent health workers from being coerced into participating in care they find morally repugnant -- protecting their "right of conscience" or "right of refusal."
"This goes to the core of what it means to be an American," said David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "Conscience is the most sacred of all property. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care workers should not be forced to violate their consciences."
The swell of propositions is raising alarm among advocates for abortion rights, family planning, AIDS prevention, the right to die, gays and lesbians, and others who see the push as the latest manifestation of the growing political power of social conservatives.
"This is a very significant threat to patients' rights in the United States," said Lois Uttley of the MergerWatch project, who is helping organize a conference in New York to plot a counterstrategy. "We need to protect the patient's right to use their own religious or ethical values to make medical decisions."
Both sides agree that the struggle between personal beliefs and professional medical responsibilities is likely to escalate as more states consider approving physician-assisted suicide, as embryonic stem cell research speeds forward and as other advances open more ethical fault lines.
"We are moving into a brave new world of cloning, cyborgs, sex selection, genetic testing of embryos," Stevens said. "The list of difficult ethical issues involving nurses, physicians, research scientists, pharmacists and other health care workers is just continuing to increase."
Most states have long had laws to protect doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions from being fired, disciplined or sued, or from facing other legal action. Conflicts over other health care workers emerged after the morning-after pill was approved and pharmacists began refusing to fill prescriptions for it. As a result, some lost their jobs, were reprimanded or were sanctioned by state licensing boards.
That prompted a number of states to consider laws last year that would explicitly protect pharmacists or, alternately, require them to fill such prescriptions.
The issue is gaining new prominence this year because of a confluence of factors. They include the heightened attention to pharmacists amid a host of controversial medical issues, such as the possible over-the-counter sale of the Plan B morning-after pill, embryonic research and testing, and debates over physician-assisted suicide and end-of-life care after the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case.
"There's an awful lot of dry kindling in the room," Martin said.
At least seven states are considering laws that would specifically protect pharmacists or pharmacies.
"Every other day, I hear from pharmacists who are being threatened or told they have to sign something that says they are willing to go along with government mandates," said Francis J. Manion of the American Center for Law & Justice, which is fighting an Illinois regulation implemented last year requiring pharmacies to fill all prescriptions, which led to a number of pharmacists being fired. "The right to not be required to do something that violates your core beliefs is fundamental in our society."
Opponents say such laws endanger patients by denying them access to legal drugs, particularly morning-after pills, which must be taken quickly. They say women often must go from pharmacy to pharmacy to get those prescriptions filled.
"Women all over the country are being turned away from obtaining valid and legal prescriptions," said Jackie Payne of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "These kinds of laws would only make the situation worse. It's shameful." Planned Parenthood is supporting efforts in at least six states to pass laws requiring pharmacists to fill all prescriptions.
At least nine states are considering "right of refusal" bills that are far broader. Some would protect virtually any worker involved in health care; others would extend protection to hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities. Some would protect only workers who refuse to provide certain health services, but many would be far more expansive.
At least five of the broad bills would allow insurance companies to opt out of covering services they find objectionable for religious reasons. A sixth state, Pennsylvania, is considering a bill designed for insurers.
"These represent a major expansion of this notion of right of refusal," said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies reproductive health issues and is tracking the legislation. "You're seeing it broadening to many types of workers -- even into the world of social workers -- and for any service for which you have a moral or religious belief."
Supporters say the laws are necessary, given the rapidly changing nature of medical research and care.
"We live in a culture where more and more people are on opposite sides of these basic issues," said Manion, who has represented an ambulance driver who was fired after she refused to take a patient to a hospital for an abortion, a health department secretary who was not promoted after she objected to providing abortion information, and a nurse who was transferred after she refused to provide morning-after pills.
Opponents fear the laws are often so broad that they could be used to withhold health services far beyond those related to abortion and embryos.
"The so-called right-to-life movement in the United States has expanded its agenda way beyond the original focus on abortion," Uttley said. "Given the political power of religious conservatives, the impact of a whole range of patient services could be in danger."
Doctors opposed to fetal tissue research, for example, could refuse to notify parents that their child was due for a chicken pox inoculation because the vaccine was originally produced using fetal tissue cell cultures, said R. Alto Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin.
"That physician would be immunized from medical malpractice claims and state disciplinary action," Charo said.
Advocates for end-of-life care are alarmed that the laws would allow health care workers and institutions to disregard terminally ill patients' decisions to refuse resuscitation, feeding tubes and other invasive measures.
"Patients have a right to say no to CPR, to being put on a ventilator, to getting feeding tubes," said Kathryn Tucker of Compassion and Choice, which advocates better end-of-life care and physician-assisted suicide.
Others worry that health care workers could refuse to provide sex education because they believe in abstinence instead, or deny care to gays and lesbians.
"I already get calls all the time from people who have been turned away by their doctors," said Jennifer C. Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, who is representing a California lesbian whose doctor refused her artificial insemination. "This is a very grave concern."