Culture or quality of life?

You get what you pay for....

Author - Speaker - teacher

May 18, 2005


The modern health care debate causes all sorts of problems for liberals and conservatives.  At the root of it is an argument about life, and inalienable rights.


The Declaration of Independence says that we “are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Does every American have the right to a healthy life?  If so, what does that say about our health care system?


Len Nichols, director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation, said, “Medical care is an essential gift that is necessary to sustain life…To deny health insurance is equivalent to denying food.”  Strange, then, that his foundation did not take any position on one of the most celebrated quality of life debates of our times.


As hard as it is for some of us to believe, Florida and the U.S. government allowed Terry Schiavo to starve to death.  A lone judge had declared Schiavo to be in a permanent vegetative state, and although many medical professionals disagreed with that conclusion, the state still allowed Schiavo to die by starvation.  Why didn’t Nichols think she had the right to life?  After all, our government denied her food?


James Pinkerton, a fellow at the New American Foundation and a peer of Mr. Nichols, wrote about Terri Schiavo in Newsday, on March 31, 2005.  “As Republicans and Democrats collaborate possibly to bring more special-needs kids into the world, the ‘culture of life’ is displacing an older concept, ‘the quality of life.’ Losing ground is the pragmatic ‘quality of life’ argument – a movement based on the alleviation of suffering and also, dare we say it, on the feeling that some kinds of health care are simply too expensive for society to bear.” 


Many, like Pinkerton, see that the government has the responsibility to referee this question.  Pinkerton favors the “quality of life” argument.  His belief means that people like Terry Schiavo, whose existence was judged as lesser quality than his, are expendable.


Some, like the New American Foundation, would mandate health insurance because they see that health care is a right as sacred as life itself.  On the other hand, they do not believe all human life is sacred, but that it must first meet someone’s definition of “quality.”  Pinkerton, one assumes from his writing, extends that same argument to a woman’s right to kill her baby through legal abortion. 


President George W. Bush, on the other hand, passionately promotes the “culture of life” argument.  He believes that all humans should have the right to life until the natural occurrence of death. 


Those who agree with the president’s position believe that laws should protect people like Terry Schiavo and unborn children.  


The debate about promoting a culture of life as opposed to a perceived quality of life rages on, and directly effects health care costs.  Those who, like President Bush, believe all human life – unborn, disabled, comatose, vegetative – is sacred, need to recognize that their beliefs will cost money.  It means higher taxes and insurance premiums, higher co-pays, and it means giving more to charities that provide health services to our most vulnerable citizens. 


Those who believe that human life should be determined by an objective value judgment based on quality will have to recognize that no human institution is truly objective.  Making the government an arbiter of life in our Godless society will lead down the slippery slope to eugenics.  The Germans did this under Hitler, when they mandated that everyone pay for health insurance, but denied benefits to Jews and others they considered to have a questionable quality of life. 


As for me, I trust God to decide when life has ended, and until then, will commit myself