During the last week of 1995, I received two calls for help, one from Texas and one from Ohio, from people who are being required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Of course, we receive dozens of such calls each month, mostly from people who are threatened with imprisonment, academic failure, and loss of job, professional licenses, and child custody. That is why we have started RR-Political and Legal Action Network (RR-PLAN).
These two particular calls, however, stood apart from the usual 12-step abuses. Twelve Step intimidation now includes the death penalty. Both callers suffer from terminal liver disease. To be considered for organ transplant, they must join an AA group, identify their sponsors, and report that they are attending at least four meetings per week -- whether they want to or not.
These American citizens, both in mid-life, with families and successful careers, have developed terminal liver disease -- yes, both drank excessively -- and now face the excruciating choice between AA and death. Although constitutionally incapable of accepting the spiritual pablum dispensed, they are entirely capable of remaining permanently abstinent, and have done so for over a year. Both would like very much to continue living, but if they do not betray themselves by attending AA meetings, they will soon die. So far, they are holding out.
Prior to the rise of the recovery group movement, people faced similar
decisions, such as between quitting drinking and dying of liver failure.
Naturally, many summarily quit drinking in order to extend their lives.
Today, that heritage of human competency has been forgotten. Heavy drinkers
are presumed to be powerless to abstain from alcohol, unfit for organ transplant
-- unless, of course, they bask in the saving grace of AA.
What's the big deal?
From a practical viewpoint, one might ask, "So what's the big deal if an organ consignment committee tries to make the very best use of precious human tissues? At least AA is an answer to alcoholism, and we don't want to waste a precious liver on someone who will continue drinking."
This line of thinking is riddled with problems too numerous to list and too complex to address here. Some salient points are:
1. AA doesn't work! The 12-step program has nothing to do with quitting the use of alcohol or any other drug. Abstinence rates for people in the recovery group movement are astonishingly low: under ten percent.
2. AA is intensely religious. It is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent civil rights law to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion.
3. Anyone can quit an addiction if that is what they want to do, and if they know how it is done. Most people who quit an addiction do so outside of AA. They figure out how to quit as they go.
4. No reasonable person would object to being taught how to quit drinking if he or she wanted to do so but were unsure of how to go about it. AA, however, actively forbids their participants from actually quitting their addivtions.
5. No one threatened with death, whether they plan to continue drinking
or not, will fail to attend AA meetings and feign enthusiasm. The exceptions
are those willing to die for certain principles of freedom.
How could this happen in America?
It wasn't too long ago that I half-joked to an audience, "Knowing what I know about the nature of the 12-step movement, it won't be long before organ transplants will be reserved for AA members."
I was only half joking, because I know "how it works." Few people, if any sit as I do -- in a position to hear directly from the "constitutionally incapables" who do not fit the rigors of AA discipline. Indeed, it appears that very few are constitutionally capable of fitting the 12-step mold. Lately, not fitting the 12-step mold can be a dangerous limitation.
The question, "How could it happen?" has also been asked about social changes that occurred in Europe during the 1930s, which culminated in a memorable conflict. Interestingly, one can easily see how the abuses by Germany transpired by simply reading a book written by the chief architect of the Third Reich, before his rise to power. The answers are there. Evidently, very few people actually looked into his writings, or took them seriously if they did.
Anyone who doubts the intent of the American recovery group movement, or is puzzled about its routine use of intimidation to gain new members may find out most of what they want to know by reading its two chief references, The Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written in the days just prior to and following World War II. Here is a sampling from the latter, which may illuminate the phenomenon of mandated AA participation:
Tradition One: Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
The unity of AA is the most cherished quality our society has. Our lives, the lives of all to come, depend squarely on it. Without unity, AA dies. The AA [member] has to conform to the principles of recovery. His life actually depends upon obedience to spiritual principles. If he deviates too far, the penalty is sure and swift: he sickens and dies. At first, he goes along because he must, but later he discovers a way of life he really wants to live. Moreover, he finds he cannot keep this priceless gift unless he gives it away. Neither he nor anybody else can survive unless he carries the 12-step message. Most individuals find that they cannot recover without an AA group. Realization dawns that he is but a small part of a great whole; that no personal sacrifice is too great for the preservation of the fellowship. He learns that the clamor and ambitions within him must be silenced whenever these could damage the group. It becomes plain that the group must survive if he is to survive.
Therein lies a serious problem: people in AA place a greater value on the program than upon the people who come seeking help. It is only a short step from there to representing the 12-step program as infallible and universal, and then predicting that people who do not accept the program, or who object to it, will naturally come to a bad end. For many years, this has been happening at practically every meeting. This is no innocent support group. It is a hard-core, secret society of zealots. Their brash, grandiose confidence in the program has directly affected public administrators who must solve vexing problems in an expedient, socially-acceptable way.
Here are some of the things we dreamed. Hospitals didn't like alcoholics, so we thought we'd build a chain of our own. People needed to be told what alcoholism was, so we'd educate the public, even rewrite school and medical textbooks. We's gather up derelicts from skid rows, sort out those who could get well, and make it possible for the rest of them to earn their livelihoods in a kind of quarantined confinement. Maybe those places would make large sums of money to carry on our other good works. We seriously thought of rewriting the laws of the land, and have it declared that alcoholics are sick people. No more would they be jailed; judges would parole them into our custody. We'd spill AA into the dark regions of dope addiction and criminality. We'd form groups of depressive and paranoid folks, the deeper the neurosis the better we'd like it. It stood to reason that if alcoholism could be licked, so could any problem. It occurred to us that we could take what we had into the factories and cause laborers and capitalists to love each other. Our uncompromising honesty might soon clean up politics. With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around medicine, we'd resolve their differences. Having learned to live so happily, we'd show everybody else how. We thought our society of Alcoholics Anonymous might be the spearhead of a new spiritual advance! We might transform the world."
This paragraph is under Tradition Six: "An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose." Tradition Six has become a mockery. Tens of thousands of hospitals and addiction treatment centers are based solely and rigidly on the 12 steps. The staffs are entirely made up of AA members, trained in 12-step counseling methods. Those who would compete ideologically or economically with the 12-step community are intimidated by economic reprisal or regulatory interference.
The dreams listed above were meant as examples of silliness or unreasonable optimism. That they were listed as such and were not denounced is open to interpretation, but each one of the dreams listed by early AAers has come true, and the scope of the movement's ambition has soared since then. Medical textbooks have been rewritten around the myth of addictive disease -- and its "treatment," which is consignment to AA.
Each seemingly insignificant gain becomes a major foothold for new program outreach. Now, with organ transplants given on condition of AA participation, health care services are being provided on the condition that one is a member of AA.
I absolutely, personally guarantee that this is not the end of the expansion of the recovery group movement into health care, and that services unrelated to substance abuse will soon be affected. In the San Francisco Bay Area, managed care cutbacks are accompanied by support groups for nurses under stress from increased work loads. The support groups are by no means spontaneous, but programs focused on sensitivity, spiritual awareness, and "getting it together." Already, at Marshall Hospital in my hometown of Placerville, California, physicians and employees have been required to attend a "staff development" program offered by management called "Art of Living," or AOL. As usual, the required programs are presented as "voluntary," but the consequences of not participating include job discrimination and economic reprisal. In less than two years, about $15 million has been spent on a psychologist guru who conducts intensive training sessions. The AOL newsletter carries participant testimonials on how AOL changed their lives and provided a spiritual awareness that they plan to take to Marshall Hospital patients, particularly in wards where death is often imminent. "A program to die for," gushed one initiate. Some employees who complained publicly that Art of Living is a religious cult experience are no longer employed at the hospital.
As reforms in health care continue, we will begin hearing the expression, behavioral health, in conjunction with health services provided in the context of, and on the condition of, 12-step spiritual healing. Behavioral health, a euphemism for health fascism, is a buzz-word used to describe a collusion between the counseling professions, managed care, and employers for the purpose of requiring psychological assessment and treatment of problems affecting work performance. Bottom line economics are cited to justify the expense of unsolicited counseling. Indeed, manufacturers of AA commemorative chips and coins should be pleased. Stay tuned.