Saturday, July 01, 2006

A National Disgrace

On June 12, 2006, here in Juneau, Alaska, James P. Sullivan, a taxi-driver, jumped off the Juneau-Douglas bridge after pushing aside a motorist who tried to stop him. It was early evening; the tide was running fast under the bridge and there were many horrified witnesses. The boat Wilderness Swift, owned by author ('The Blue Bear') Lynn Schooler, managed to stabilize the body next to its hull until the Coast Guard arrived, but attempts to resuscitate Sullivan were futile.

"Laflin [Sullivan's boss] said Sullivan had learned he had cancer and that it would cost him $10,000 just to find out if it was operable. Sullivan also had glaucoma, Laflin said. When he sought help paying for medical costs, he was told he would have to be destitute to receive public assistance.... Laflin said everyone who knew Sullivan was in shock Tuesday morning when they heard it was he who had jumped from the bridge." [Juneau Empire, June 14, 2006]

A lot of people who didn't know Sullivan were in shock, too. That this man was forced to choose among the alternatives of death by cancer, death by suicide, or the abject humiliation of becoming destitute is unconscionable. That an anesthesiologist by contrast—to cite just one example—can make upwards of $2500 an hour, points to something very sick in our medical system. That a relatively few number of people can become wealthy by exploiting the suffering of others is, in my view, at the same level morally as genocide, torture, or other war crimes. The Hippocratic Oath says nothing about profit being the criterion for medical treatment.

In a recent broadcast on Alternative Radio (NPR), Stephen Bezruchka reported that America spends more money on its health care system than any other country in the world and yet its people are less healthy than, for example, a working-class Brit. Advances in profit-based medicine require patients to pay for them. It's a vicious circle.

Also aired recently on NPR have been several stories about America's rapidly increasing population of poor people who are often forced to choose between food and their prescriptions. Their plight is complicated by the wacko decision of the present administration to split off prescriptions from Medicare and/or supplemental insurance (for those who can afford it). The new discount cards vastly complicate the lives of the elderly, create gaps in coverage of medications and are driving pharmacists out of business.

Our lack of a universal health care system degrades us both as a nation and as individual human beings. There are always problems with government-run health systems including waste and abuse, but the quiet desperation—not to mention suicides—of a large percentage of our population here in the United States is simply unacceptable. And the situation is only going to get worse: procedures and drugs will become increasingly expensive and only the elite will be able to afford them.

The State of Massachusetts recently decided that the ineptitude of federal government can no longer be tolerated. If we cannot count on the creation of a federally run National Health system, then we must do it our selves, state by state.

If we remain indifferent to this crisis or fail to overcome our sense of powerlessness in the face of a heedless, callous and cynical federal government, then yet another aspect of our humanity will have withered and died, and James Sullivan's death will be merely another statistic.


Anonymous InTheWilderness said...

Amen! And again I say Amen. The health care system in this country is a travesty. Would that we Church-people could get our heads out of our asses long enough to focus on something really important, like life-and-death issues such as heath care and other peace-and-justice issues.

5:21 am, July 02, 2006  

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