Health Care: Ethics and Alternatives

healthcare worldwide

Universal Health Care

If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” then sanity is doing something different. When we are stuck in repeating patterns of misery, we need to get unstuck, and yet this is so painfully difficult, we often continue in insanity and misery.

So Hard to Change

Psychologists, business consultants, and best selling self-help books offer tips on how to  change. When things aren’t going well, in our personal lives, in our business, or in the world, we naturally and quite rationally call for change. When we try to actually implement change, however, we hit brick walls, either from established institutions or from some perverse mechanism within ourselves.

Health Care Debate: More Heat than Light

The current furor over US health care is a fairly good example of this phenomenon. Very few people would agree that is morally acceptable that only privileged citizens should have access to health care. If only privileged citizens have access to health care, then the unprivileged will suffer and die before their time, while the privileged live on. This has almost genocidal overtones, and (I hope) is morally unacceptable. The moral unacceptability of allowing poorer citizens to die when it is our power to help them to live is a changeless moral standard.

How the US Compares for Health Care

The US is the only developed nation without universal health care. While universal health care is labeled as “socialism*” by its opponents, this means almost nothing for several reasons. All programs that the in-group dislikes are called “socialism” in the US; it has worked in the past and it may be working now. It is hard to imagine a more fiercely capitalist nation than Japan and guess what? They have universal health care. The US pays more for health care than other developed nations and is not at all healthy as a result. Something needs to change.

Health Care a Matter of Life and Death

Citizens have the right to life; a changeless principle that the US claims to revere. But within the changeless, there is constant interchange, and this is not only unavoidable, it is a universal law; it is how the world works. All sorts of conflicting values come into play: “I want freedom and the bigger the federal government, the smaller my freedom, so no government health care.” What kind of health care do you recommend, then? “This will lower profits in the health insurance industry, that’s bad for business and therefore bad for America.”  “Lawyers may be restricted in the amount of malpractice settlements they can obtain; this is anti-free enterprise and subversive.” “Doctor’s fees and drug company prices may be regulated and this is socialism.”

US Does Not Have Free Markets

“Free markets” contains two of our favorite words. Let the free market dictate health care, some say, and everything will shake out fine. However, we don’t have free markets in the US, we have corporatism. To illustrate: A poor citizen may know they have a sinus infection and need antibiotics. They cannot just go buy some antibiotics, however. They must go to a doctor and then pay whatever the drug company demands, and the US government backs this up with the force of law. The bill for all this will range from $100 to much more, and the poor person must pay cash, since they have no health insurance.The poor person also knows they need to pay the utility bill, so the poor person postpones that trip to the doctor, sometimes to the point of dying from a sinus infection.

True Story about Health Care in the US

I must tell this true story. A 33 year-old single mom of a 12 year-old girl had ulcers. She worked hard for minimum wage and had no insurance. She tried treating her stomach pain with over-the-counter medications until she collapsed and was taken to the emergency room vomiting blood. She died in that emergency room.

Free Market Medicine in Other Countries

In some countries, the sick person with a sinus infection could buy antibiotics at a convenience store without a prescription for about $10. Some would say this is dangerous, antibiotics should be regulated by the government to protect the health of citizens. Ironically, the same people who say the government should regulate this also call for less government regulation!

Is it Wrong to Let People Die?

The changeless is that it is morally wrong to allow people to die when it is in our power to help them to live, and it is in our power to help them live. If only we can get past the brick walls of special interests, corporatism, and partisan power-grabbing, we could make this change. The interchange of ideas on the method for doing this is fine, as long as its based on the truth and not a bunch of silly slogans and fear-mongering. Corporations speak with a very loud voice, but the 33 year-old mother I mentioned has no voice at all.

* Socialism defined: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Note: An alternative to governmental ownership of health care is collective ownership of health care, a “socialist” system that most Americans would approve.  Churches and other community organizations could sponsor free clinics, drug companies could donate medications, and doctors and nurses could donate their time. Why hasn’t this been done on a nationwide scale?


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