Everyday Ethics

I’ve been hesitant to wade into any discussion of health care
reform because, frankly, it feels too big for me. For a lot of Americans, I
suspect. And besides, what exactly are the ethical angles to examine?

Too many to enumerate, I think. My mind kind of boggles just
thinking about them all. But there are two that jumped out at me this past week
that I feel it behooves me to tackle, in my own tiny way. 

    1.  The ABC
      News story I saw earlier this week about an Oregon woman with terminal lung
      cancer whose insurer denied her request for an experimental
      life-prolonging drug but did – tactlessly – offer to cover a $50 ‘death drug’
      offered under Oregon’s “Death With Dignity” law.
    2.  Another
      news story, this one on NBC’s Nightly News last night, about a group of volunteer doctors and dentists called
      Remote Area Medical who set up shop in sports arenas and
      fairgrounds across the country – OUR COUNTRY – offering thousands of uninsured
      and underinsured Americans free medical care, for which they wait hours, even
      days, patiently in line. 

The ethical issues inherent in the first story are myriad. In the
article, some suggest the problem lies with the state even having an assisted
suicide law on the books – that of course, if there’s a cheaper option (ie,
assisted suicide) out there, insurers will push for it, even if it’s heinously
immoral and hideously callous to suggest it in place of life-prolonging treatments. It’s just practical, money-saving, and human nature. Sadly, there aren’t
enough advocates for the ‘little guy’ (or little gal, in this case) to help her
fight it. We simply shake our heads in outrage – helpless outrage.

I don’t think it’s the fault of the physician-assisted
suicide law – which was intended to be a mercy, not some efficiency measure to
sweep the ‘useless’ members of society aside. I’m sure if that law wasn’t on
the books, the insurer would still deny her request for the experimental drug,
just not offer her the option of the so-called ‘death drug’ in its place.
They’d simply twiddle their thumbs while she wasted away. To me, the fault
lies with a medical care system obsessed with cost-cutting and remuneration.
Because costs are out of control, costs must be the primary consideration.

In theory, I like the idea of the additional government-run
health care option Obama is talking about. Of course, govt. insurance could be
equally as lousy as one’s private insurance, I grant you – or worse. But having two options, instead of having to settle
for whatever one’s default option is… doesn’t that improve the odds? Wouldn’t
that drive costs down? And yet, I can see where those who oppose Obama’s health
plan are freaking out – the
government-run ‘
death-panel‘  doing the determining as to who would live or die in this Oregon woman’s case
was, in fact, the state-run Oregon Health Plan
. Not auspicious.

Again, I don’t know. These are big questions, and with so
much heated rhetoric and misinformation flying around, it’s scary to even
venture an opinion. I suspect not even the Congress knows exactly
what it’s selling to the American people in House bill 3200. I understand that the idea is to
get enough people covered that there shouldn’t need to be such a hodgepodge of
coverage, nor sub-par plans for people who fall under the poverty line, like
these catch-all state-run insurers. But will it work? It’s anybody’s guess, and
everybody’s panicking.

In the second story I mentioned – the one about Remote Area Medical – well, I just have to tell
you, whenever I watch coverage of this organization’s work, I feel simultaneous
pride, admiration, and deep, deep humiliation. Why the humiliation? Because I just keep
thinking, “This is happening in America?
We’re forced to send doctors – unfunded and unaided by any government agency –
to what amount to refugee camps to tend our poor and ailing citizens?” The
shame chokes me.

Remote Area Medical was founded by a colorful character
named Stan Brock to help folks in third-world countries, yet RAM discovered the need
domestically was great enough to keep it plenty busy here at home – and not just in
remote rural areas anymore, but in cities like L.A. as well. I am proud of our
volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses, pilots, etc, and endlessly admire their
tireless efforts. What appalls me is that, in our great nation, their efforts
are necessary. How is it that we look after our own so poorly that we need the
help of volunteer organizations?

Something’s got to change. I really, truly believe it. And I
do have hope that change will be for the better, because I can’t see how it
could get much worse.

What do you think of this great debate? Are we headed for better days,
or is America flatlining on the table?

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