Tuesday, June 30, 2009

General Convention 2009: Pet Grief

I continue to look through legislation submitted to General Convention, looking for resolutions on health care or otherwise of interest to chaplains. After all, new resolutions are being submitted every day.

While I haven’t found any new resolutions on health care, I have found some of interest to chaplains. One of those is Resolution C078, submitted by the Diocese of Montana. It is titled, “Liturgy for Loss of Companion Animal,” and reads as follows:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That this 76th General Convention reaffirm that all animals are a part of All Creation, for which we are called to be stewards of God's gifts; and be it further

Resolved, That the Episcopal Church embrace the opportunity for pastoral care for people who grieve the loss of a companion animal; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop a rite to observe the loss of a companion animal for inclusion in the next edition of the Book of Occasional Services and that it report its work to the 77th General Convention.

This resolution speaks distinctly to an important change that has taken place in our society. When most Americans were rural and agricultural, the animals around them tended to be either tools or hazards. There were the animals kept to produce meat or fiber. There were animals kept as tools, whether as beasts of burden or herding animals or controllers of vermin. There were animals that were simply hazards, whether to health or to crops. There were some animals that might be either hazards or food sources, depending on how they interacted with human agriculture.

Note, though, that none of these were pets. People might become quite fond of them – note how upset we all became about Old Yeller – but they were rarely confused about how they were to be treated and used. No matter how well tended or loved the bull calf, everyone knew from the beginning that eventually he would be slaughtered or sold. No matter how well loved the dog, she lived in the kennel at the back and not in the bedroom.

While that understanding of how humans and animals relate isn’t gone completely, it’s no longer the most common experience. Most of us have companion animals – pets – and not livestock. There are also service animals that share the lives of many. However, the relationships between service animals and those they serve reflect more often the intimacy of pets than the utility of livestock. For most of us, the animals in our homes are not tools but members of the family. We attribute a certain level of personhood to them. For many they are intimate companions, listeners who don’t interrupt, and providers of unlimited affection. For some they become like children, but children who never grow up and leave, who never move beyond their need of us.

With that in mind, I think it important to take seriously grief at the death of a companion animal. I know from both personal and professional experience that the sense of loss is real and significant in the lives of those who lose the animal. This is often heightened by a greater sense of responsibility; for, all too often, we discern suffering in our companion animals as best we can, and choose to end suffering with euthanasia. We have, as I said, attributed some personhood to these animals. We have taken responsibility for their lives, and frequently for their deaths. The grief that we experience in these relationships and these decisions is meaningful in our lives. We have to go through the same grief processes in these losses that we do in any other.

It is also true that often those around us are not as able to empathize for the loss of a companion animal as they are for the loss of a human companion or family member. It is also common that those grieving loss of a companion animal expect less empathy, and so make it so by being less ready to reach out for support. In either case, there may be a particular experience of isolation in grieving a pet or service animal.

These are all reasons for Episcopalians, both clergy and lay, to take seriously grief at the loss of a companion animal, and to offer compassion and support, as well as to seek support when we grieve ourselves. That said, we can consider as a separable question whether the Church ought to establish an official rite for this circumstance for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services. The authors of the resolution offer this explanation for the resolution:

Various groups within the Church have shown an interest in developing inclusive liturgies for events that touch people's lives, for which there currently exists no authorized rite. The bond between humans and their animal companions can be strong, causing a deep sense of loss, grief (or even guilt) over the animal's death, especially when dealing with the loss alone, without the presence of their community of faith, or having the preconception that such an event falls outside the interest of their church. Our animal companions provide a unique connection to creation and expand our sense of God's diverse gifts in creation. In many cases they also join us as partners in ministry, in such capacities as assistance animals, i.e., seeing eye dogs, etc. as well as therapy dogs and cats used in health care facilities and for pastoral care. An authorized rite in the Book of Occasional Services would give clergy and others a resource for offering pastoral care at the death of a companion animal.

I would certainly agree with the assertions in this explanation. That said, I don’t know whether we really need an authorized rite for “a resource for offering pastoral care at the death of a companion animal.” First and foremost, as a chaplain I’m conscious that the most important act in pastoral care is quiet, sensitive listening. I am certainly prepared to offer a rite; but it’s not the first step. Moreover, while we understand clearly in our worship tradition that some services require clergy leadership while others decidedly do not, formation of a single “approved” rite would tend to narrow our response and to focus on what liturgical leaders do, instead of what we can all do. Parents have been formulating rites for years for the death of a pet. As we appreciate that the reality of grief at the loss of a companion animal isn’t only the experience of children, we can appreciate the capacity of adults to formulate appropriate prayers to honor the losses in their own situations. As an aside, I am not aware of discussion at this point of a revision of the Book of Occasional Services. Such a rite might be seen more quickly if proposed for trial use as a part of the literature of Enriching Our Worship.

I was a visitor to General Convention in New Orleans in 1982, and was present in the House of Deputies as the Hymnal 1982 was debated and tweaked. When a deputy moved to amend to add “He’s God the Whole World In His Hands” to the Hymnal, a member of the Commission noted that it had been considered and rejected. What was important was the reason it was rejected. That was because that much beloved hymn for children is at its best when those participating were customizing it, adding verses in the moment appropriate to the folks participating. He noted then that for our hymnody we were not restricted to the Hymnal, or to other music specifically approved by the General Convention. I would suggest we are in a similar case here. Burial of the Dead is not a sacramental rite, and we already read the rubrics for that rite with some significant latitude. We have latitude as well to create prayers for situations not addressed in the Prayer Book. I think we can use that latitude creatively to mourn the death of a companion animal, whether alone or in a congregation.

I would be interested to see how this gets through the committee process. I think the occasion for this resolution is real. I don’t know that this makes a specific, approved rite necessary.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

General Convention 2009: Mental Health (Health Issues 7)

In my last post on General Convention and health, I highlighted resolution C071, titled “Health Care Coverage for All,” submitted by the Diocese of East Tennessee. I also noted that there was a second resolution on health from East Tennessee. That resolution is C073, titled, “Re-evaluation of Care for Mentally Ill.” The resolution itself is brief enough to include in full.

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention recognize the urgent need to find a way to effect a re-evaluation by the appropriate federal, state and local agencies of the care and long-term treatment of the chronically mentally ill members of our communities; and be it further

Resolved, That this resolution be the beginning of a mission for our country led by the Episcopal Church to develop an action plan with the help of mental health professionals, government officials and church leaders, and other appropriate partners to find ways for communities to move forward with concrete steps to deal with these issues without moving backward into the abuses of the past.

In the explanation, the writers of the resolution made reference to the Community Mental Health Center Construction Act of October 31, 1963. The point of the act was to reduce the number of psychiatric patients were kept, and often simply warehoused, in state psychiatric institutions, and to make treatment available to those patients in their own communities. The thought was that this offered several benefits. It would make it possible for patients to have access to family support. With psychiatric care centralized in state hospitals, often far from family, this could be difficult (and still can be; in Kansas there are two state hospitals still open, both in the easternmost quarter of the state. For families living in the western half of the state, it can be a long drive.). Second, it was thought that with new medications many patients could function in society, well enough to live at home, and sometimes well enough to live alone and be gainfully employed.

I grew up in East Tennessee, and I well remember the state hospital in Knoxville, then known as Eastern State Psychiatric Hospital, or more often just Eastern State. I also well remember when some effort was made to implement the principles of the Community Mental Health Center Construction Act. In Tennessee that took place in the early 1970’s. The governor at the time, Winfield Dunn, was a dentist; and he appointed a psychiatrist to be his Director of Mental Health Services. There was great enthusiasm at the time.

Unfortunately, as the writers of the resolution note in the Explanation, “The mental health care centers that were developed lacked the resources necessary to accomplish their task, thus creating in these past 46 years a large group of people living in degrading homelessness where those with emotional and mental problems have few resources and services, very little follow-up care and no long-term care.” As I recall, state legislators found it exciting to save money by reducing expenses at the state hospitals. They just didn’t find it sufficiently exciting to spend that money in developing community mental health resources. Oh, the centers were built and programs were established; but never with enough staff and never with enough money. The results were in fact two-fold. On the one hand, there weren’t enough community mental health resources to really support those who could live in the community. On the other, there were no longer sufficient resources for those whose friends, families, and caregivers learned really couldn’t live in the community, because the programs of the state hospitals were so curtailed. That was the squeeze that resulted in the “degrading homelessness” the writers identify.

While there have been other issues, that homelessness has been a problem of particular note. It has resulted, I believe, not only in the significant percentage of the chronically homeless who have psychiatric needs, but also in the number of people incarcerated who need psychiatric care. And, notwithstanding the frequent comment that the largest providers of mental health services are now correctional institutions, it’s care that they don’t always receive.

This is a subject General Convention has addressed in the past. Resolution 1985-D127, “Support Ministry to the Homeless Who Are Mentally Ill,” directed

That the 68th General Convention instruct appropriate Executive Council staff to develop and make available to the Church educational resources regarding the plight of homeless people, including those who are mentally ill; to establish, in cooperation with dioceses, Jubilee Centers, local parishes, the social agencies of this Church, other social agencies and the mental health care delivery system, a means of providing assistance for these individuals who are without an adequate support system to meet their needs for care and supervision; and to develop a program of advocacy with other existing organizations on behalf of such homeless people.

Resolution 1991-D088, “Encourage Understanding of Mental Illness and Respond to the Needs of the Mentally Ill,” called for Episcopalians “to become knowledgeable about mental illness…, to reach out, welcome, include and support persons with a mental illness…, to equip the clergy and laity for ministry to the mentally ill and their families and that clergy and lay ministers seek out training and opportunities to minister to the spiritual needs of those who are affected by a mental illness…” among other steps. This was reaffirmed in resolution 2000-C032, “Urge Congregations to Commend and Support Mental Health Support Groups,” with the added suggestion that congregations offer facilities to such support groups. In addition, the important resolutions of past General Conventions on universal access to health care have consistently called for equal and adequate care for mental health as for physical health.

Adequate mental health care continues to be an important issue for our society, with many ramifications. If we can make progress toward universal access to health care, and especially toward parity between care for physical and mental health, we can hope for meaningful changes. This resolution would reaffirm the Episcopal Church’s support for adequate mental health care for all, and especially for those who are homeless or living in inadequate circumstances. Sounds worthy to me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Published at PlainViews

I have a new piece that has appeared in PlainViews, the online journal for chaplains. The subject will be familiar to my regular readers: being a research-informed chaplain. You can read it here.

If you're a chaplain who stops here and you haven't yet looked at PlainViews, I encourage you to spend some time reading there. PlainViews had information and opinions from and for chaplains on a wide variety of topics. You can read the current edition, certainly; but also scroll down to the bottom of the page and check out the Archives. There are many things there worth reading, and most will take only a few minutes.

If you're looking here having linked from PlainViews, welcome. If you'll look to the left column under "Labels," you'll see categories I've used to sort my posts. That can help you sort through and focus on topics you're interested in. Stay a while, read some, and leave me a comment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

General Convention 2009: Health Issues 6

I have written a number of posts about resolutions  to General Convention that related to health care, or that might be of interest to chaplains.   To this point, those resolutions  have been “A” resolutions coming from one of the Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCAB’s) of the Church.  However, I have continued to review resolutions as they are posted on the General Convention’s web site to note any others that would be relevant.


To date I have discovered two, both “C” resolutions submitted by the Diocese of East Tennessee.  The first is C071, titled “Health Care Coverage for All.”  As I have noted, the Report of the Standing Commission on Health did echo the consistent statements of the General Convention in support of universal access to health care.  However, the Report did not include a resolution on the topic.  Thus, Resolution C071 speaks again to that concern.  It reads as follows:


Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention call on its congregations to undertake discussions within the parish of the issue of health care coverage in the United States, including:

a) recognition that health is multi-dimensional, with spiritual, social, environmental, and mental elements as well as physical,

b) reminder of personal responsibility for healthy life choices and concern for maintaining one's own health,

c) proclaiming the Gospel message of concern for others which extends to concern for their physical health as well as spiritual well-being,

d) responsibility as a parish to attend to the needs (including health-related needs) of others, both other members of the parish family and those of the wider community, the nation, and the world,

e) recognition that there are limits to what the healthcare system can and should provide and thus that some uncomfortable and difficult choices may have to be made if we are to limit healthcare costs; and be it further

Resolved, That, following up on the discussions within the parishes, communicants, individually and congregationally, be urged to contact elected federal and state officials encouraging them to:

a) create, with the assistance of experts in related fields, a comprehensive definition of "basic healthcare" to which our nation's citizens have a right,

b) establish a system to provide basic healthcare to all,

c) create an oversight mechanism, separate from the immediate political arena, to audit the delivery of that "basic healthcare,"

d) educate our citizens in the need for limitations on what each person can be expected to receive in the way of medical care under a universal coverage program in order to make the program sustainable financially,

e) educate our citizens in the role of personal responsibility in promoting good health with provisions of restricting to some degree treatments for disease in which the patient fails or refuses to comply with good medical practice; and be it further,

Resolved, That this resolution be distributed to all dioceses of the Episcopal Church of America for their consideration and support; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention call upon the Episcopal Church to establish and fund a task force to develop action plans and educational materials for dioceses and parishes to conduct the above-described activities; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $5,000 for the implementation of this resolution.

Past General Convention resolutions have addressed standards for universal access, including some understanding of what "quality health care" might mean, and approaches to political leaders.  This resolution has some distinctive features.  First, it focuses first on educating and involving members of the Church.   Involving individuals in discussing these issues and contacting their political issues encourages ownership and accountability.


Second, this resolution calls for a specific action in establishing a task force to develop materials.  With funding expected to be tight in the next Triennium, I don't know whether actual dollars will be approved.


Finally, this resolution addresses specifically and explicitly rationing of health care.  While it doesn't use the term, it does speak of the necessity of limiting and restricting treatments.  It speaks especially of educating both church and community members that some limitations will be necessary and expected if we are to accomplish universal access to health care.  For many this has been a challenge, but the recognition that some personal responsibility and some limits will be necessary.


With its call for a task force and funding, and its acknowledgement of rationing, I will be interested to see how this resolution progresses.  It is, however, consistent with the past resolutions of General Convention in calling for universal access to health care.  It is timely, inasmuch as universal access to health care, or at least to health insurance, is a central goal of the Obama Administration.  How much impact this specific resolution has won’t be known for a while.  At the same time, it doesn’t hurt for General Convention to say it once again. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

At Daily Episcopalian: More Thoughts on General Convention

My latest piece is up at the Episcopal Cafe on the Daily Episcopalian page. It's also about General Convention, in the context of my "Second Sermon."

While you're looking at my piece, take a look at the work of my colleagues there, and feel free to leave a comment (I know it's a bit cumbersome, and requires joining TypePad; but TypePad is free, and the conversation is important to us). We want to offer some interesting news, commentary, and spiritual reflection from a progressive Episcopal and Anglican perspective. Come and see.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

General Convention 2009: "Holy Women, Holy Men"

I have posted on a number of health issues addressed in various Reports to this summer’s General Convention. However, there are a number of Reports that are not obviously related to health issues that may also be of interest to chaplains. One this year is the Report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.

The largest portion of this year’s Report is “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.” This is an extensive revision – some would say a replacement for - the well known “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” approved for the Episcopal Church. “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” has published the calendar of approved celebrations in the Episcopal Church, along with the approved lessons and collects and some historical information. I use it each year as I remember those worthies in the Episcopal Calendar who have some relationship with health care: St. Luke (October 18); Florence Nightingale (August ); and Constance and Her Companions, the Martyrs of Memphis. Luke was a physician, of course; and Florence Nightingale was arguably the founder of modern professional nursing. The Martyrs of Memphis are remembered as those Episcopal religious and clergy who stayed in Memphis, Tennessee, during the yellow fever epidemics of the 1870’s to care for those too poor to leave the city.

There has already been a good deal of discussion about “Holy Women, Holy Men.” It lays out principles for adding persons to the Calendar, including some new categories cor consideration. It greatly expands the calendar, adding many possible worthy individuals to remember. In those additions are new men and women, many persons of color, and a number of people significant in Christian history who were not – or who once were and then left being – Anglican. If you’re interested in broader discussion, I would suggest reading here or here.

What was interesting to me was the addition of a number of persons whose Christian lives were lived out or had some affect health care. New in the list in “Holy Women, Holy Men:

  • Cannon, Harriet Starr: First a member of the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion, she left with four other women to found the Community of Saint Mary. Not only were most of the Sisters among the Martyrs of Memphis members of CSM, but the Community continues to run health care institutions. (May 7)
  • Chisholm, James: Episcopal priest in Portsmouth Virginia, like the later Martyrs of Memphis, he remained with his congregation during an 1855 epidemic of yellow fever that depopulated the city. “He brought spiritual comfort, food, such medical assistance as he could minister, and even dug graves.” Toward the end of the epidemic, he died of the disease himself. (Sept 15)
  • Fr. Damien and Sr. Marianne of Molokai: Fr. Damien is famous for his work in the leper colony on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. He eventually contracted Hansen’s Disease himself and died. Sr. Marianne was Roman Catholic nun “who was asked to found a leper hospital for women on Molokai and to take over the work of Fr. Damien among the males.” (April 15)
  • Grenfell, Wilfred Thomason: “British medical missionary to Labrador and Newfoundland where he established hospitals and founded the first Seamen’s Institute.” (Oct 9)
  • Innocent of Alaska: Innocent was a Russian Orthodox missionary to the Aleuts in Alaska, and became the first Orthodox bishop in the New World. In his work with the Aleuts, he persuaded them to be vaccinated for smallpox and kept scientific journals of flora and fauna in the area. (March 30)
  • Mayo, William W., and Charles Menninger , with their sons: The Doctors Mayo are, of course, known for the Mayo Clinics and Hospitals in Minnesota, while the Doctors Menninger are known for the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic, initially in Topeka, Kansas, and now in Houston, Texas. Both clinics were noted for bringing the best clinical care and research to care for the bodies, minds, and spirits of their patients. (March 6)
  • Passavant, William:. As a Lutheran pastor and social reformer, he established the first Deaconess Hospital in Allegheny, as well as other hospitals in the Upper Midwest. (Jan. 3)
  • Vincent de Paul: Founder of the Vincentians, he established many charitable projects including hospitals, orphanages and ministry to prisoners. He also founded the Daughters of Charity. That community continues to be a major provider of health care today. In addition, a number of other communities that find there vocation in health care follow the Vincentian Rule. (Sept. 27)

There are others whose lives would be of interest to chaplains, including the four Army chaplains who died in the sinking of the USS Dorchester in World War II; Mother Ann Seton; and Bartolom√© de las Casas. However, these I’ve mentioned have had some direct effects on health care.

It remains to be seen whether “Holy Women, Holy Men” will be approved in General Convention, or whether it might be approved with some changes. At the same time, these additional observances can offer some interesting possibilities. For Episcopal chaplains especially they might offer the opportunity to show in our various ministries how much history and interest the Episcopal Church has in contemporary health care. Certainly, this will be a topic of interest in this summer’s General Convention.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

General Convention 2009: Health Issues 5

I have written a number of posts on health care issues in the Report to General Convention of the Standing Commission on Health. However, there is another continuing body that has a stake in health care issues. That is the Executive Council Committee on HIV/AIDS.

As they have in past General Conventions, the Committee on HIV/AIDS has provided a report for General Convention, including a number of resolutions. However, the heart of the report is a section on “The State of HIV/AIDS Today,” which centers on three topics. The first points out that infection rates, both in the United States and abroad, continue to rise. The Committee points out that, “In the United States the general infection rate has stabilized at about 56,000 new infections per year (recently revised upward by 40% by the Centers for Disease Control).” Moreover, around the world “The HIV/AIDS pandemic globally also continues to keep pace with our efforts to curb it….For every two persons who receive treatment, an additional five persons become infected.” They note that a number of programs have increased their efforts to fight the disease, “but we remain behind the curve.”

The second concern is that there remains a stigma against those who are infected. The Committee comments,

This stigma keeps us from paying enough attention to the pandemic domestically. The United States does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing the pandemic although we require that of other countries to which we give aid. Good education about HIV/AIDS is lacking, and urban legends persist both domestically and overseas. People are reluctant to get tested and then reluctant to seek care. Those infected and affected are still bereft of the pastoral care and compassion from their communities that usually accompany illness.

Finally, and in light of the last sentence about the stigma, the Committee is concerned about the Church’s response. They acknowledge and honor a number of programs at home and abroad. “However, despite numerous calls for increased education of our young people about their responsibilities and the factual realities of sexual relationships, in many of our parishes this does not happen. We also too easily focus our attention on the pandemic overseas and ignore the people who are suffering in our own neighborhoods.”

In light of these concerns, and of their plans for the next triennium, they summarize the report,

Thus HIV infection rates continue to rise in the United States and globally, while poverty, invisibility and stigma lead to lack of care, lack of concern and lack of a coordinated response. However, we are living in a time of increased interest in public health and access to health care, and growing attention to the global HIV pandemic and the Millennium Development Goals. The church still has an opportunity to demonstrate a Christ-like response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly in our neighborhoods in the United States as well as with our partners overseas.

In response, the Committee proposes a number of resolutions.

  • RESOLUTION A159 ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF AIDS notes the rise in the infection rate, and the call of the Baptismal Covenant for our concern, and resolves specifically, “That the General Convention urges Episcopalians at all levels of the Church to engage in conversations with HIV/AIDS service providers, local health departments and other public and private resources to urge them to address this issue in direct and substantive ways that include the following prevention activities: accurate and explicit prevention information that is sensitive and specific to issues of culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, sexual orientation and the use of IV drugs and recreational drugs;
  • RESOLUTION A160 ACCESS TO ADEQUATE MEDICAL CARE FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH AIDS “deplores the discrepancies in levels of care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS based on poverty, prejudice, ignorance and the lack of visibility;” and calls for the Church to “advocate strongly for access to adequate medical care not based on any factor other than the need for health care.”
  • RESOLUTION A161 AIDS EDUCATION AND RESOURCES calls on the General Convention to “[urge] rovinces, dioceses, congregations and worshiping communities to include accurate and comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention in youth education programs [and] encourage its congregations and worshiping communities to offer educational programming to interested parents and grandparents on how to discuss sex with their children,” IT also calls for the National Episcopal Aids Coalition (NEAC) and National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM) to develop and share materials for the purpose.
  • RESOLUTION A162 DOMESTIC STRATEGY COMMITTEE ON AIDS CRISIS calls for “Executive Council with the assistance of the Committee on HIV/AIDS to convene a domestic strategy meeting for the purpose of developing a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis by The Episcopal,” and report on the meeting and its results to the next General Convention.
  • RESOLUTION A163 MANDATE ON NEAC AIDS TUTORIAL calls for General Convention [to] mandate staff and leaders and all active clergy take the on-line tutorial on HIV/AIDS prepared by the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC) during this last triennium,” and to monitor compliance.
  • RESOLUTION A164 COMMENDATIONS TO PRESIDING BISHOPS commends our current and most recent Presiding Bishops for their observance of World AIDS Day, and calls for observance of World AIDS Day in congregations.

    There is one other resolution, that is indeed the first resolution. RESOLUTION A158 CONTINUING RESOLUTION calls for General Convention to “authorize the continuation of the Executive Council Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS for the 2010–2012 triennium,” and speaks of the work the Committee foresees in that time. This is in response to the work, if not the specific resolution, of the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. That body’s report includes the resolution, RESOLUTION A117 DISCONTINUE THREE COMMITTEES, including the Committee on HIV/AIDS. In their report, the Commission on Structure notes of their efforts that “Clearly these Executive Council Committees have accomplished important work…. The Commission believes it is time for the policy work to be intentionally taken up by existing Standing Commissions, whose mandates already cover the same subject areas.” Arguably, with the exception of the resolution on the NEAC tutorial, the resolutions from the Committee on HIV/AIDS are policy statements. With that in mind, the Commission on Structure says in the Explanation for resolution A117, “The policy work of the Committee on HIV/AIDS should be undertaken by the Standing Commission on Health, now that it has been reestablished and funded. The program work related to HIV/AIDS education and services will continue to be done by the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC), which would work closely with the Standing Commission on Health regarding policy initiatives.”

    This is not a new idea, and was discussed in and around the re-establishment of the Commission on Health in 2003 and its funding in 2006. However, the Committee was continued, and the change not made. Certainly, adding HIV/AIDS to the concerns of the Commission on Health is arguable; and adding the funding for HIV/AIDS would add to the budget considerations for the Commission. Whether this will happen in this Convention, however, remains to be seen.

    Certainly, HIV/AIDS remains an important issue, and particularly as a health issue, both in the United States and abroad. As our understanding has changed from “dying of AIDS” to “living with AIDS,” from an acute to a chronic illness, so has our understanding of how HIV/AIDS affects care for the sick, from the institution of “universal precautions” to the issues of funding care for chronic conditions. Conversely, other issues affect how we address HIV/AIDS specifically. For example, as the Anglican Communion is reshaped, addressing the AIDS pandemic in Africa may well be affected by our relationships with Anglicans no longer in communion with the Episcopal Church. The work of the Committee on HIV/AIDS, both in their report and in their proposed resolutions, deserve close attention this July at the General Convention.

Monday, June 01, 2009

General Convention on Abortion

The murder of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who provided safe abortions, will bring again to the forefront issues of abortion and of appropriate responses. Readers should be aware that the General Convention has spoken to abortion (most fully in resolution 1994-A054 here; to post-abortion stress (in resolution 2000-D083 here); and to violence against abortion clinics (resolution 1988-D124 here). I have written before about this in more detail, but I thought we might want again to recall how General Convention has addressed these issues.