Posted by: bridget | 5 March 2007

Monday Reading

Animal-rights activists are complaining about increased use of dissection in biology class. Over the past several years, dissection has increased as a didactic tool: younger students are performing dissections and students are using a wider variety of animals. While concern about animals and the environment is understandable, the number of animals that are used for dissection is infinitesimal compared to those raised specifically for human consumption. The trend towards more dissection has its obvious limits: biology class has to be about more than slicing and dicing the daily frogs, snails, or other French delicacy.

Massachusetts is developing a health insurance plan for those who cannot afford normal coverage. The cost would be about $175/month.

Originally, the idea of obligatory health insurance was conceived as a joint venture between then-Gov. Dukakis and the Business Roundtable. The idea was to reduce the number of employers who refused to cover their employees, which drives up costs for their competitors who insure their employees and have to pay a surcharge to cover the uninsured. If large businesses were required to insure their employees, the number of uninsured Bostonians would decrease (making the liberals happy) and businesses that do the right thing by their employees would not be penalised (pro-business).

Somehow, this idea mutated into universal coverage, whereby Massachusetts residents will be required to have health care. MA residents who are not covered will have to pay a tax.

The pared-down health plans are still very comprehensive: “The plans must include coverage for preventive doctor visits and an out-of-pocket limit, after which the plan would pay everything else, said the board’s executive director, Jon Kingsdale. They must also include coverage for emergencies, mental health, substance abuse, rehabilitation, hospice and vision.”

This is a change from current Massachusetts health insurance law, which requires that all insurance plans cover infertility diagnosis and treatment. Insurance is meant to cover that which cannot be foreseen and is a danger to health; infertility, while heartbreaking, is hardly akin to a broken leg or cancer. Furthermore, the requirement drives up costs in Massachusetts on two fronts: people are required to purchase gold-plated insurance and to subsidise extraordinarily expensive, elective treatment; and infertility treatment correlates strongly with complications from pregnancy and low-birth weight babies. Massachusetts has done well to remove this well-intentioned but misguided law that has made insurance in that state unaffordable for many of its residents and businesses.

Religion meets public health: Muslims in the DC area are lobbying to be allowed to bury their dead within 24 hours without embalming them. The largest problem they face is finding morticians who will perform the services. Due to state licensing laws, any apprentice mortician must embalm at least twenty bodies before receiving a license (after which embalming is not required), which is prohibited by the Muslim faith. Public health concerns include mishandling of bodies and possible leakage of bodily fluid that could be a vector of disease. The article did not mention the possible effects of having morticians who have not embalmed bodies and refuse to do so: a license indicates that a person is qualified to perform a variety of tasks, and some members of the public may be misled. It is always difficult to balance a facially-neutral law with religious concerns; here, it is especially difficult as those religious requirements most likely arose from the health issues involved with having a body in the desert.



  1. Couple of comments:
    1) I was shocked to learn that up until recently there was only one licensed mortician to support Muslim burials in Washington, DC.
    2) The lobbyist for the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association seems to be implying that Islam is not a “legitimate” religion. Not a very defensible position I would think.

    Now, I agree there should be strong (and enforced) regulations that insure disposition of deceased humans do not threaten public health. But I would also note that there is quite a stark difference in price for a Muslim burial versus, say, a Christian burial(up to five times less). Perhaps that explains why the funeral industry seems opposed to allowing for licensing Muslim morticians…

  2. Thanks for visiting, Sam!

    Great points.

    The article briefly mentioned that Muslims pay for services that they don’t use – apparently, there are no options tailored for them. Muslim mortiicans would undercut the current ability to charge for services not rendered – which is always a good deal.

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