Let THEM die (but not us)

A medieval hospital. Patients are given food and cared for by monks and nuns.

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.

Ron Paul at the Republican Debate

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.


  1. Jennifer King on September 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Lauren, I share your sentiments, including your outrage! On issues relating to healthcare, amonng others, are many public figures who don’t allow truth or logic to interfere with whatever they wish to say. Just as you point out, there isn’t much of a divide when it comes to “us” vs “them”! Thanks for your thoughfulness and clarity of expression. Jen

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm

      Dear Jen, thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind words. I appreciate it. L.

  2. John Griswold on September 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Well said, Lauren.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      Thank you, John.

  3. Petra Scheller on September 15, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Who would have thought that after 35 years we would meet again this way? Christa forwarded your book launch invitation and I am in awe of your accomplishments…more specifically your social conscience and mind! I have marked the October date in my calendar and – barring unforeseen circumstances – will be there! You obviously have not changed in the slightest in all those years. I feel compelled to advise you that if you wish recognize me, look out for a person with short grey hair and a big smile! Christa will help to point me out!! Looking forward to autumn now! ….Petra.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm

      Petra — It’s wonderful to see you here! Thank you.

      And as for not being changed in all these years (surely the last time I saw you was in 1989 at Crown Life?) believe me, no one’s ever recognized me from that photo — it’s amazing what four hours of professional make-up, hair and lighting (plus a brilliant photographer) can do for a girl!

      I SO look forward to seeing you again. L. xo

  4. Dawn on September 16, 2011 at 9:47 am
    • Lauren B. Davis on September 17, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Good old Paul. Love his work.

  5. Stuart Ross on September 17, 2011 at 7:10 am

    You make good points, Lauren. And we are talking about politicians who are pandering to the Tea Party, whose population is mostly made up of people fighting for policies that can only harm them. It’s bewildering. But I think that the fact that they have a black president has prevented most of them from thinking straight.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 17, 2011 at 9:20 am

      Yes, sadly, I’m that’s true, Stuart. Their lemming-like attitudes are mystifying. On the racial front, Obama’s hue has given some people apoplexy, but I must say, this country is so divided that whatever Democratic person became President, the Republicans (and certainly the Tea Party) would find something about him or her to demonize. What so disturbing is that while all this vitriol is being passed back and forth, people are dying from lack of health care, losing their homes, falling into the despair of poverty, failing to get a decent education, etc., etc.. The 24-hour news stations fuel an unending blather of distraction. I have to fight quite hard to retain any optimism these days. Sigh.

    • Dawn on September 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      I’m with Stuart on this one. There’s always been a lot of grumbling against Washington, for as long as I can remember, but I find it a bit more than a coincidence that the drums to dismantle government and government services are beating so loudly at this particular point in history, when leadership is in the hands of a black man. It would be completely unfathomable that policies are embraced that are so blatantly and wildly against the interests of 99.9% of the population, if we don’t account for it by just a smattering (well, more than a smattering) of hypersensitivity against a leadership that has demonstrated no less trustworthiness than any of its predecessors. If we don’t consider racial motivations we have to assume just plain stupidity, and I can’t imagine what would make this generation any more stupid than any other generation.

      • Lauren B. Davis on September 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

        Dawn — agreed. And of course one can be stupid AND racist, shudder.

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