Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Attraction of Free Medical Care: Egalitarianism

I have seen several different facebook entries, blog posts, and articles about how bad medicine under state control is. I am sure that an actual effort to put together a history of medical care in Canada, for example, would provide more horror stories and causes for fear than we could imagine. Socialized medicine, medicine under the rule of force, is bad medicine.

What is even more disturbing is that the citizens who live under government controlled medicine know very well what is happening to them. They are the ones who have to suffer the mistreatment, poor service, lower standards, and rationing that state controlled medicine inevitably leads to. Why haven’t we heard from these victims? Why are they silent?

There are mundane answers to those questions, for example, the fear that speaking out would result in being treated even worse by vindictive administrators and “doctors” who have bought into the “free” system. Fellow citizens also may inflict punishment on “complainers”, who, after all, are threatening a service that everyone has a right to receive, in the local accepted prejudice.

But there is something deeper I think. This isn’t just the ideal of altruism, because socialized medicine isn’t solely, or predominately, based upon the sacrifice for the sake of others or even the state. This is worse. It is egalitarianism. This is the enforced requirement that everyone be treated equal, and lower quality, equally bad medical care is acceptable. To not accept it would require questioning the premise. A person cannot argue that they should have good medical care, because that would be demanding something that cannot be offered to everyone within a socialized country. To demand good medical care is to demand that you be treated as an individual.

In “The Age of Envy”, Ayn Rand offered this example of egalitarianism, “Suppose a doctor is called to help a man with a broken leg and, instead of setting it, proceeds to break the legs of ten other men, explaining that this would make the patient feel better; when all these men become crippled for life, the doctor advocates the passage of a law compelling everyone to walk on crutches – in order to make the cripples feel better and equalize the “unfairness” of nature.” (The New Left, p. 170)

In practice, if that term has any meaning, the medical practice in a socialized country will not go around breaking legs. That would be even too obvious for most people. What it does do, however, is almost the same. Instead it makes treatment egalitarian by limitation (not to be confused with rationing). That means that the treatment a person can receive has to fall within a certain range of acceptability, of equality. This restriction to a range is justified by citing the funding limits. But is actually the reverse. It is the principle of egalitarianism that mandates the “equality” of treatments. Even if funding was unlimited, treating individuals differently would violate the fundamental tenant of egalitarianism.

Thus the result is not that the doctor has to go around breaking legs. He only has to say that available resources and funding limits restricts the treatment options available to different cases, regardless of the severity of their illness. Thus someone with a leg that is severely damaged would suffer amputation or permanent disability, rather than receive treatment that is significantly beyond what a broken leg would normally receive. Then, as funding levels do decline, doctor availability and capability decline, as standards of the population decline, the level of treatment will continue to decline over time, with no noticeable reaction from the populace.

The egalitarian application to health care also means that any medical treatment that is considered optional, such as hip replacements, would be eliminated, as has been the case in Canada for decades. It is not egalitarian to offer options.

Just this week there was a long article on the current status of Canadian health system on Yahoo. In the article there is a significant glorification of the size of the operation, ranking it internationally as a business. There is criticism of some spending shortcomings, as you find in the criticism of many government operations in this country. They are only concerned with waste and fraud, ignoring the inherent incompetence of government bureaucrats attempting to deal with such a complex subject as medical care. The article attacks the elements of the Canadian “system” that still contains some element of individual choice (the doctor’s choice of business organization and medical decisions). It goes on to discuss future funding issues. Nowhere does it discuss the actual level of care a Canadian resident receives. This subject is irrelevant!

You find the disconnect between the promise of government run health care and the quality of the care in every discussion of government run health programs. You find this disconnect in the arguments for government health care in the U.S. The proponents of health care provided by force do not actually care about the quality of care. They do not care about the consequences for the individual recipients of government run health care. Neither, apparently, do the proposed recipients, who seem only to care that they are receiving “free” health care. They only care about the implementation of force by the government. The supporters of freedom fail to point this out. It needs to be emphasized.

To my knowledge there has not been a study of the level of health care in any of the Western nations that have socialized medicine. It is quite puzzling. This study needs to be done. A study of the Canadian experience would be most helpful, since it is the most recent and most like our experience would be. (If anyone knows of a study, please tell us.)

As these arguments go on, and egalitarianism becomes more entrenched, at least implicitly, it will be harder to dig out. We must not forget the ideal of egalitarianism in our arguments and protests. It is a special application of altruism and needs its own special attention. Otherwise we shall see continued adverse consequences from both the liberal left and the religious fundamentalists. Both will push egalitarianism.

This is the way mankind pulls back from civilization, from industrialization, from the digital world, from large populations, from survival. What is killing us is egalitarianism.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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