As the nation remains transfixed on the moral, ethical and legal controversies surrounding the Terri Schiavo case, I’d like to mention three words that are sure to have many of my righty readers cartoonishly blowing steam from their ears: “universal health care.”
Mention of universal health care, single-payer or otherwise, is guaranteed to illicit cries of “socialized medicine,” and all the attendant fear-mongering and name-calling that generally goes with it. I fully expect to be regaled with apocryphal tales of hapless Canadians forced to wait months for an emergency appendectomy, or some other such frightening anecdote. Labels like “socialist” and “communist” will be flung like frisbees, with the comment thread eventually and inevitably devolving into personal attacks on Teddy Kennedy, as if the blame for our nation’s ballooning health care costs and millions of uninsured can be pinned on his actions that fateful night in Chappaquiddick.
Much of the opposition to universal health care stems from an irrational fear of rationing… irrational, not because it won’t lead to rationing — it will — but because rationing is already an integral part of our current health care system (assuming you can call what we have now a “system.”) The difference is, under a health care system that guarantees universal access, rationing will be based on reasoned criteria that prioritizes resources towards where they provide the best return, whereas under our current non-system, the reverse is often true. For example, while millions of the uninsured, many of them children, go without basic preventative health care, more than half of Medicare dollars are spent on patients who die within two months.
Not to mention patients like Terri Schiavo, whose hospice care taxpayers are largely paying for through Medicaid.
I am in no way suggesting that Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die because her life isn’t worth the expense. I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy of people who uncompromisingly support an absolute right to life, yet who are just as uncompromising in their refusal to pay for it. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether a blastocyst or a brain-dead woman are living, human beings the same as you or me, but nobody would deny the humanity of a sick or injured child who shows up, uninsured, at a hospital emergency room. We care for the sick, even the indigent, because there is no question that morally it is the right thing to do. The costs of their unpaid medical bills are ultimately absorbed by the rest of us.
And yet millions of uninsured Americans are denied routine medical care, and face financial ruin should a major illness strike… circumstances that are not only cruel, but create gross, economic inefficiencies throughout our health care system, raising the costs for all.
And so I ask those who support keeping Terri Schiavo’s body alive at any expense: should taxpayer money be used to pay for her care? And if so, why shouldn’t it also be used to pay for a mammogram for the gal flipping your burger at McDonalds, or a dental exam for a farm laborer’s child? How are we respecting the “sanctity of life” when we lavish taxpayer dollars on the dying, yet ignore the basic health care needs of so many of the living? And if prayer vigils are to be held, why not also hold them for the uninsured who lose their jobs and their homes and their life savings to a family illness?
Yes, universal health care will result in rationing to some degree, but we are already rationing now… and not just our tax money and medical resources, but also our compassion and our prayers. Isn’t it time for the most vocal proponents of life, to put their money where their mouth is?