hi. i have a writing question, and i wasn't sure where to ask it, but it's kinda political, so i thought this would be a good place. i am opposed to a proposed federal mandate which is in a 30-public-feedback stage. i desperately want to comment on the proposal, but because of the way that the bill is written (very well) i'm having a hard time attacking it on a rhetorical level. what do you do when you want to write a strong argument but there isn't anything glaringly wrong (i just morally oppose the bill)? i mean, how do you shape an attack when you don't have a blatant target??(to clear it up a bit, the bill is trying to protect healthcare providers from being forced to perform any action that they are morally opposed to. it's trying to help them, and this is very clear in the way that it is written. however, i feel that this is negligent of the patient, simplistic in its view of access to care, and potentially dangerous in a downward spiral kind of way....but i feel like the argument isn't that strong. i want to say "it's my duty not to harm the patient. it's my duty to educate them about potential care and see that they receive the best possible care whether or not i provide it. but in the end, it's my utmost duty to respect the patient's right to be in control of their own healthcare." or some snappy version thereof. so wow, this comment is long, but i'm curious how to proceed with argument when you feel your rhetoric is weakly based.)
Ahhh, this reminds me of a "debate" we had in my Writing About Popular Culture class almost ten years ago (egad, where the hell did that time go?). We had to argue whether a student (hypothetically) had the right to hang a Nazi flag outside his dorm room door, and my group was assigned to argue in favor.
Naturally, we all found this morally abhorrent, but I rallied my groupmates and said, "We're not going to address the moral issue; we're going to argue First Amendment down the line. We can say that it's abhorrent, but it's still that person's right." (In hindsight, I'm wondering whether that position would no longer be valid under the hate speech laws.)
Technically, my group won the debate because we had a more sound argument and anticipated that the opposition was gonna play the pathos card (the opposition, and my groupmates, I think, was especially speechless when I brought up the US's internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII-- don't remember what I was specifically responding to, but it worked). But I wrote a follow-up essay as part of the assignment that was more reflective of my own morality albeit still rhetorically effective.
Now, in your case, you're saying the argument to restrict practitioners from exercising treatments/practices to which they are morally opposed (such as administering birth control or the Morning After pill after a rape has been committed because it violates their pro-life stance, I assume) is sound-- or, at least, the written proposal is well-crafted.
Here's my suggestion:
- For one thing, acknowledge the moral dilemma and make the concession that it exists. I'm trying to think of an instance in my own profession that matches this, but the closest I come to is maybe something like school prayer. (I don't find it "dangerous" or "harmful" as much as alienating and prejudicial, however.) You may even share your own propensity for personal morality and its role in your practice, or even spiritual values that may not necessarily be integrated in your practice (such as praying for patients), but is essentially a part of your own life and being. This will disarm your audience who supports this legislation.
- Next, redefine the moral obligation. You said: however, i feel that this is negligent of the patient, simplistic in its view of access to care, and potentially dangerous in a downward spiral kind of way....but i feel like the argument isn't that strong. i want to say "it's my duty not to harm the patient. it's my duty to educate them about potential care and see that they receive the best possible care whether or not i provide it. but in the end, it's my utmost duty to respect the patient's right to be in control of their own healthcare." I disagree w. you; I think that's quite valid and actually *really* strong. Your first statement is a powerful claim -- you now need to provide the evidence to support it. Show me examples/evidence of negligence; show me how/why the view is simplistic; show me the cause-effect of the downward spiral. In other words, it's just as morally reprehensible if we withheld an option such as contraception from a patient as if we withheld an option such as chemotherapy and radiation because we're against violence of all kinds (and I think that's a form of violence), for example. (Maybe that analogy was too extreme and thus faulty in logic, but hopefully you get my drift.)
- Finally, offer potential solutions or even compromises. Is there a way for those who stand in opposition to refer patients to other specialists? Is it acceptable to say, "I'm personally opposed to this, but it's my duty as a practitioner to inform you of all your options (or is that intimidating? based on all the Law & Order I've watched it seems that even counsel will still carry out their clients' wishes under protest). And if there are no good compromises, then stand your ground anyway. Your position is not an unreasonable one. It may be that if the person is *that* morally opposed, then she/he needs to leave the profession, or open a private practice in which she/he explicitly states that she/he will not perform such services, thus allowing the patient to go elsewhere. (I see this creeping up more and more w/ pharmacists, too, who won't fill prescriptions for birth control pills, for example. Kinda scary, if you ask me.)
- What's up w/ the Patient Bill of Rights that John Edwards had a hand in? I might not bring his name into it, but I heard it was an excellent bill (or am I thinking of a West Wing episode? seriously, it's possible!)
Overall, I think that approaching readers as a co-thinker (i.e. not going on the attack) while maintaining your position -- i.e., use of rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos (carefully), logos -- is your best bet. And knowing you as I do (that is to say, knowing your writing skills), I have the utmost confidence that you'll pull it off and earn the respect of your colleagues, not to mention the trust of your patients.
And with that, I think I hear the bell ringing... Class dismissed!