Last night I watched a snippet of the Republican debate — that startling moment when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidate Ron Paul if he thought a hypothetical 30-year-old uninsured man who needed health care should be left to die, and several people in the audience called out, “Yeah!” “Let him die!”
Watch it by clicking on the following link.
I wish I could say I was shocked at the reaction of audience members, but I really wasn’t. I recall a conversation I had with a man in Louisiana some years ago, when I tried to find common ground with his anti-health care position, by saying I thought we both wanted the same things but believed in different methodology. He looked puzzled and asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted my neighbors to have access to education, food, shelter and health care, that there should be a decent minimum standard of living and medical coverage for all people, to make sure those less fortunate didn’t slip through the crack. The fellow laughed and said, “Honey, I don’t give a damn for any one too stupid to take care of themselves. I take care of my own, and that’s it.”
That shocked me then, it doesn’t now.
But what surprised me last night was the inconsistency in Mr. Paul’s subsequent argument. A physician himself, he stated he never turned anyone away from a hospital for lack of means. Here is a transcript of his remarks from the Chicago Tribune:
BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?
PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals.
PAUL: And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea, that’s the reason the cost is so high. The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar, we have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. And we should actually legalize alternative health care, allow people to practice what they want.
Apart from the fact that the Tea Party audience has apparently turned into the very “Death Panels” they accused Obama of creating, I have a problem with the inconsistency in Mr. Paul’s statements. He says the people who should assume responsibility of those less fortunate are their neighbors, friends and the churches. How odd. How does he define government, then? Is not a government (at least in principle) supposed to be the representatives of those very neighbors, friends and churches to which Mr. Paul refers? While I am not a fan of the power drug and insurance companies have, that is a different debate, or at least a subsequent chapter. First, one must address the central concept — do we organize the care of our neighbors or not?
If, indeed, Mr. Paul would not allow this hypothetical person to die (as some of his supporters might wish him to) but would want him to be cared for by his community, has he not just endorsed a kind of health care system? But it is a narrow bed on which he invites us to lie. He seems to be saying, “We will take care of our own, and our own only. You must take care of yourself and your own; they’re not my problem.”
But who is ‘Us” and who is “them”?
It would be nice to think all of us would, individually, chip in and help our suffering neighbor, but I can’t for the life of me (pun intended) see why I shouldn’t elect someone to oversee that care on the off chance I might be too involved in my own life (or be simply too miserly) to look out for everyone in my community.
The deeper problem here seems to be the belief on the part of some folks, like my friend in Louisiana and those death-approving audience members, that while those members of MY tribe are worth caring for, the rest of the world can go to hell — “Those” people, whomever they may be, are not my problem and are not worthy of my consideration.
I believe Mr. Paul, and so many others, have not examined the logic of their original assumptions, and by not doing so, they muddy the waters. I invite us all to begin here, by asking ourselves a simple question, which I will paraphrase from the mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph — do we or do we not, love the dear neighbor without distinction?
If you answer that you do love the dear neighbor without distinction, then surely all the rest, including how we care for that dear neighbor, is merely a matter of ironing out the details.