Bioethicist argues for rationing health care

Rationing health care

IN THE rush to pass a 1,000-page, $1.5 trillion health care reform bill before the August recess, one wonders whether Congress, much less the American public, has time to absorb what’s really on the table: government control over access to medical treatment.

Princeton University Bioethicist Peter Singer, who has argued that parents should be allowed to kill their babies if children aren’t in the best interests of the family, attempts to make the case in an editorial published in the New York Times Magazine:

In the current U.S. debate over health care reform, “rationing” has become a dirty word. Meeting last month with five governors, President Obama urged them to avoid using the term, apparently for fear of evoking the hostile response that sank the Clintons’ attempt to achieve reform. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published at the end of last year with the headline “Obama Will Ration Your Health Care,” Sally Pipes, C.E.O. of the conservative Pacific Research Institute, described how in Britain the national health service does not pay for drugs that are regarded as not offering good value for money, and added, “Americans will not put up with such limits, nor will our elected representatives.” And the Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus, told CNSNews in April, “There is no rationing of health care at all” in the proposed reform.

Remember the joke about the man who asks a woman if she would have sex with him for a million dollars? She reflects for a few moments and then answers that she would. “So,” he says, “would you have sex with me for $50?” Indignantly, she exclaims, “What kind of a woman do you think I am?” He replies: “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling about the price.” The man’s response implies that if a woman will sell herself at any price, she is a prostitute. The way we regard rationing in health care seems to rest on a similar assumption, that it’s immoral to apply monetary considerations to saving lives — but is that stance tenable?

Health care is a scarce resource, and all scarce resources are rationed in one way or another. In the United States, most health care is privately financed, and so most rationing is by price: you get what you, or your employer, can afford to insure you for. But our current system of employer-financed health insurance exists only because the federal government encouraged it by making the premiums tax deductible. That is, in effect, a more than $200 billion government subsidy for health care. In the public sector, primarily Medicare, Medicaid and hospital emergency rooms, health care is rationed by long waits, high patient copayment requirements, low payments to doctors that discourage some from serving public patients and limits on payments to hospitals.

This is the logical end of a worldview that values human life on its utility, not as precious in its own right: decisions of life and death determined by a bureaucrat with an actuarial table.

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