Thursday, February 21, 2013

HB 1419: How to Build a Granddaddy House

Virginia House Bill 1419 spells out that every Virginia resident has a right to build onto or beside his or her home a smaller house into which a disabled relative may move in order to enjoy free "assisted living" as a privilege of being, e.g., the property owner's mother.

It doesn't seem to have generated much debate, and maybe we're better off with HB 1419 than we might have been without it...but it makes me queasy.

1. We needed this bill? The question was raised? In Virginia?

2. And why, in a civilized and democratic society, would anyone need permission to do what any decent human being does when the situation calls for it?

3. And whose business is it whether a person in need of "assisted living," who trusts you or me to provide the assistance the person needs, is related to us by birth, marriage, adoption formal or informal, or by friendship, or monetary obligation, or some long-past romantic affair, or what ever? Some of us are in a position to marry or adopt people to whom we feel obligated, formally, and some of us are not.

For example, had Delegate Pogge asked me, I could have introduced her to a lady in Washington who has the lifelong right to any care, assistance, or advocacy I may be able to provide. She's obviously not related to me by birth or marriage. She's related to me in the sense that, while active citizens of Washington, we practiced similar beliefs about loving the friends life sends us as if they were our blood relatives, regardless of creed or color. I hope, for her sake, that she's able to do better for herself than rely on me. I've never thought she was the type who'd even want to spend a weekend at the Cat Sanctuary--more of a city person, not keen on hiking or nature. But she doesn't have other close relatives to depend on, and if she needs a niece, I am obligated by a vow to be one.

I don't mind claiming her as family. "Aunt," "Sister," or "Cousin," as she may prefer. "Mother" is taken. But why are our legislators so determined not to recognize good will, or good faith, or honor, as reasons why people may choose to help one another?

In many cultures, people provide for their old age by taking vows of friendship, usually in a social club where more than two friends and co-workers are involved. Sometimes the basis for these bonds is that people worked or went to school together. Sometimes a "society" or "fraternity" is an ancient cultural institution into which people initiate their children. These vows may be secret or public but are considered sacred. For example, remember that Yahoo report about retired Chinese men living in giant gym lockers? The one who talked to Kelvin Chan wouldn't move into nicer quarters without his buddies. That's how a pledge of friendship works in some countries; that's what "fraternity" was intended to mean.

Could the reason why HB 1419 insists on "birth, marriage, or adoption" be a deliberate intention to discriminate against cultures that take the ideal of "fraternity" seriously?