Who Can Claim Life as a Culture?

Scott Swenson

This Memorial Day we remember 25 million souls lost to 25 years of AIDS. Motivated by the death of the love of my early life in 1996 from AIDS, I started thinking about death politically. Carl died just months before medications the developed world takes for granted became available, and months after the US Navy denied him compassionate access to those meds after a five-year study in which he participated. Months meant the difference in him seeing his two sons grow up and our lives continuing together.

In 1997, I began a journey working with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law, culminating early this year in the US Supreme Court affirming Oregon’s law 6-3: the federal government had no right to interfere in a doctor or pharmacist’s compassionate decision to alleviate suffering at the request of the patient. Strict safeguards make that once controversial law a model of compromise among medical, legal, political, ethics, policy, mental health, faith, hospice, and most importantly, patient and family communities. Compromise works.

This Memorial Day we remember 25 million souls lost to 25 years of AIDS. Motivated by the death of the love of my early life in 1996 from AIDS, I started thinking about death politically. Carl died just months before medications the developed world takes for granted became available, and months after the US Navy denied him compassionate access to those meds after a five-year study in which he participated. Months meant the difference in him seeing his two sons grow up and our lives continuing together.

In 1997, I began a journey working with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law, culminating early this year in the US Supreme Court affirming Oregon’s law 6-3: the federal government had no right to interfere in a doctor or pharmacist’s compassionate decision to alleviate suffering at the request of the patient. Strict safeguards make that once controversial law a model of compromise among medical, legal, political, ethics, policy, mental health, faith, hospice, and most importantly, patient and family communities. Compromise works.

1997 was also the year I became HIV positive, and with the new medications, HIV began a journey from fatal disease to manageable illness without cure – for some. For too many of the 40 million people living with HIV, lack of basic nutrition, clean water, access to proper health care, prevention, education, medication and moral support continues to mean AIDS = Death. But when you look fear in the eye and don’t blink, you find real meaning in life, and faith. This week at the UN, the world will look fear in the eye again. The pandemic is now more clearly economic, and suddenly, after 25 years, conservative ideologues slow to see AIDS as crisis then now believe it is important. We’ve been waiting.

What conservative ideologues do by derisively referring to progressives as favoring a “Culture of Death” is to deny their own cause … bringing God’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If they choose to alienate, obfuscate and excommunicate, that is their choice. Many with strong faith do not dismiss the collective wisdom of humanity found in science. The reason we fight to secure Death with Dignity laws, or fight AIDS with proven prevention tools, or empower women to make their own health care decisions, is because we love life. We want everyone to share every minute of life with the blessings of liberty, in pursuit of happiness, and in celebration of the world’s rich cultural diversity – all of which require basic health.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

People fight AIDS precisely because they have faith we can manage and slow complex diseases or global issues, like poverty. Looking at the world as it exists and devoting energy to solving complex global problems requires a faith deeper than rote learning. It is narrow ideology that interferes with solving these problems sooner, and postpones lasting peace.

The science v. faith dichotomy is perpetuated by those who use simple sound bites to undermine data they don’t agree with, forcing others with faith just as strong to defend the complexities of science. Battles that pit simple against complex are won by the simple; wars are won by visionaries who see through complexity to peace. Progressives have lost a few battles lately, politically speaking. We’re focused on winning the peace.

The global community gathers this week to review progress since establishing goals five years ago to fight the AIDS pandemic. The news is not good, but there are glimmers of hope.

Vaccines vex researchers, but life-extending medicines are enabling more people to manage illness. They are expensive and must reach more people.

Infection rates are stabilizing in some isolated instances, but trends among women, communities of color and those in poverty continue to increase. Comprehensive sexuality education works if allowed.

Women and girls continue to be the unwitting and unwilling way patriarchal systems demonstrate oppression and ineffective solutions. Microbicides hold great promise to give women a tool to protect themselves from disease, if the funding and the will can be found to move them more quickly through trial, to production and distribution.

Marriage is the solution, conservative ideologues say, unless you are gay. Stigmatizing sexuality leads to denial and shame by many men who have sex with men, contributing to, not alleviating suffering. Marriage is also the problem for many women where oppression leads to discrimination, which leads to violence, which all leads to disease.

What works in cultures where women’s rights are accepted may not work where they aren’t, so conservative ideologues might review their “one size fits all” strategies before exporting them. If you can’t see beyond the nose on your face, how can you help anyone?

Many talk about promoting life, but can’t point to anything – other than political battles – that they have contributed to global healing at the UN. How could they? They hold the organization in contempt and participate only to disrupt.

Advocates heading to the UN meetings this week are preparing for battle. Agreements are being parsed, protests planned at both extremes, and public health advocates are diligently dotting and crossing letters in many languages so their voices are heard. Some protests will be noisy and visible, others invisible silent daggers cutting the heart out of agreements that will postpone healing.

The people they fight over, people living with HIV, may not be aware of this meeting. If they are, I suspect they have one simple question:

How many of us will miss seeing our children grow up and our loves flourish waiting for political battles to be set aside, recognizing we share common culture when it comes to life?

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.