Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why Socialized Medicine is a Great Thing

Just a little over two years ago our oldest son was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma (or as I like to call it now, "fucking cancer!").  I cannot even begin to tell you how emotionally devastating and traumatic our son's diagnosis was for our family.  The only good news for us was the fact our son qualified for Medicare, because one of us could not work due to his illness.  The type of cancer our son had required really aggressive chemotherapy.  The chemotherapy completely destroyed his immune system, so he pretty much became a bubble-boy.  He required 24 hr. care, dressing changes, administering of medications, cleaning up vomit.  He could not go to school, to the movies, to the store, it was a living hell.

During this time the stress in our family was beyond description.  Some people have suggested to me that I need to write about the experience and how my views of God were changed during this time, but to be honest the pain of the experience is just still to real, and I do not know that I could find the words.  Our family fell apart in the course of our son's illness.  My entire life became about taking care of him and trying to stay strong for him.  I had no time for anything or anyone else.  I had to drive him to Albuquerque ever three weeks for eight to nine day hospital stays for his chemotherapy.  Then when we came home he was so sick from the poisons they were pumping into his body that I had no time to do anything but try to take care of him.

My poor wife had to stay in town and work.  She had to hold our household together financially and with the day to day stuff.  Our relationship became non-existent and my wife fell apart under the strain.  She had already had such a horribly hard childhood (She has PTSD from repeated sexual abuse in childhood) that when this pain came up it took her to a very dark place.  She was in constant pain and blamed me (she had nobody else to blame).  We almost divorced.  She became angry, belligerent, and suicidal. Our other two children did not fair well either.  They basically lost their parents and had to fend for themselves through the  entire process.  They still bear the effects of the neglect, fear, and frustration of the hell we all lived through.

Not only did we have to deal with all the other issues, but we had to deal with financial strains.  One parent working, driving back and forth to a town three hours away for our son's treatment, having to buy a car to get back and forth to Albuquerque for the treatments, buying food and entertainment for our son to try and distract him as much as possible from the hell he was going through.  If we bought things for our sick son we had to also buy them for our other children or they would complain and we just didn't have the energy to argue with them (plus, we felt guilty because we know they are getting a really raw deal anyway).  We would also buy him whatever he wanted to eat, whenever he wanted to eat it, because he was often nauseous and only wanted certain foods.  Our credit card bills became astronomical.  We are still trying to recover financially.

The one and only thing we did not have to worry about through the entire ordeal was, how we were going to pay for this procedure, or how we were going to come up with the money to pay for the deductible on this?   Not once were we asked for money from a single doctor, we never saw one single bill.  If we had been left to cope with the added strain of having to deal with an insurance company, deductibles, getting approval for procedures, or any of those types of things I do not think we would have made it.

The reason I have a cancer free son today, the reason I have a marriage, the reason our other children have their brother and parents back is...socialized medicine; healthcare paid for by the tax dollars of the American people.  So, the next time you get frustrated because the new Affordable Care Act is gonna cost you a little more money (if you are wealthy enough to afford to be taxed more), just remember that the extra money you are giving to your "tax and spend" government is saving the lives of cancer patients, saving marriages, and even saving families.  Yes, ACA will cost our nation some money (although not as much as some would have you believe).  Our family is hear to tell you one thing,  "Its worth it."



  1. Brent, thanks so much for sharing your story! Wow…what a terrible thing you guys have been through. As I read your story I found myself SO glad that your son made it through and is now cancer free! I am also so glad that there was something in place to help pay for your son's treatment. Having said that, I have some disagreements/challenges for you that I would ask you to consider.

    To be rather blunt, your argument is a bit difficult to follow. Of course, the simplest way to put it is something like this:

    Premise 1: My son had cancer and needed treatment we could not afford
    Premise 2: My son would have died without treatment
    Premise 3: Because of a type of socialized medicine, my son is alive
    Conclusion: Everyone should support socialized medicine because it saves lives.

    I hope I have fairly represented your argument. Prima Facie it is a compelling argument. I know that if my wife or one of my children had a life-threatening medical need and it was taken care of because of some form of publicly provided medicine, I would be quite thankful and relieved that such a service was rendered. I wouldn't hesitate to avail myself of that service either! I have ZERO judgement for your situation and your response to it in terms of using treatment available to see your son healed. I want to make that very clear from the offset. So your experience and your choices are not what are in question here as far as I am concerned.

    However, I do have a problem with the logic you utilized in your blog entry. My problem is this:

    I could use the same logic to justify absurd claims.

  2. Observe:

    Premise 1. My family would die without housing of some sort
    Premise 2: We cannot afford to provide our family with housing
    Premise 3: The government provided free housing for my family so my family is alive
    Conclusion: Everyone should support universal government housing

    I realize that you might be fine with this particular example, so let me get a bit more controversial:

    Premise 1 My daughter would die without food
    Premise 2: I could not afford to buy her food
    Premise 3: I broke into someone's house to get the food she needed so she is alive today
    Conclusion: everyone should support thieving to feed families.

    Or even a bit silly:

    Premise 1 people who are mocked can suffer from depression and low self-esteem.
    Premise 2: people with bad teeth are oftentimes mocked by society
    Premise 3: A good dentist/orthodontist can fix bad teeth
    Conclusion: Universal orthodontics for everyone is a good thing because it will raise self-esteem.

    Now I suspect even if you supported my universal housing argument, you may have a problem with my thieving argument and probably at least find my universal dentist/orthodontics argument amusing. Why? Because the ends, (no matter how good) don't, in and of themselves, justify the means. So the question becomes one of checking whether or not the means are legitimate ethically speaking.

    We don't want to merely rely on emotional arguments to justify policy no matter how tempting it is to do so. We should ask whether or not it is right and good to use the means we are proposing. If something in our means lacks a cohesive moral foundation, no matter how pleasing the result, we must reconsider our premises.

    I could come up with thousands of utilitarian results from faulty or immoral premises. So the thoughtful question has never been whether or not we could find good results from socialized medicine. That is a very simple question to answer before even one example is put forth. In the same way, I could find good results of slavery (a family being "taken care of" by a slave owner for 50 years) or rape (an incredible child is born who was nonetheless the result of a rape) etc etc. The question is whether or not we are following consistent and morally tenable premises to arrive at our positive results. If not, we have a problem regardless of the results.

    I hope this makes sense and I hope the tone in which I offered it doesn't offend you! I realize that this must be an incredibly sensitive topic for you after what you have been through. I rejoice with the results and am so thankful to God that He spared your precious child and your precious family through "socialized" medicine!

  3. I am not offended at all by your thoughts. I do not mind others thinking differently than me or sharing those things with me.

    The main problem I have in your thinking is that you seem to feel there is a comparison between a country which chooses by electoral process to provide universal health care or another service, and "stealing". Taxes are not stealing. Taxes are a part of government processes and necessary. You may not like paying taxes for this type of service, but I personally do not mind at all. Granted, right now we are not in the financial state where we are paying very much in taxes, but if I were wealthy I would consider it an honor to pay more in taxes in order to assure that other people have the housing, healthcare, and other basic needs which humans have in order to live quality lives.

    Is providing public education with tax dollars stealing? Did my wife and I steal by using a government assistance to take care of our sick child?

    Participation in a process which has been voted on by the people of a country and receiving the benefits of that process is not comparable in anyway in my mind to "stealing".

  4. Brent, I have no problem with you disagreeing with that analogy, but there is a larger point I was making that remains unaddressed. My primary point is that just because we can point to a good result (in this case a GREAT result!) doesn't mean we have presented an ethically sound argument. I used my examples to show that utilitarian thinking (a la John Stuart Mill), doesn't provide a good foundation for social ethics and could oftentimes lead to absurd and immoral results. One only needs to look as far as slavery and civil rights (or the lack thereof) to see the problem with simply assuming that because something has been properly legislated according the laws of a land, that it is therefore morally legitimate.

    Therefore, we are back to square one in terms of determining the morality of a particular piece of legislation. But to answer your questions…no I don't think you and your wife stole by using government assistance. I thought I made that clear in my first 2 installments. I wasn't trying to bring any accusation or judgment against you or your family. What you have been through is horrendous!

    Let me pose a hypothetical though. If tomorrow, we as a society held a popular vote and determined that we would strip every person in the top 10% of all of their worldly possessions, would this be ok? Assuming we followed every law as laid out by the last 236 years of jurisprudence, is it still possible to do something unethical and morally repugnant as a nation?

    1. I understood fully your argument, I just disagreed with it. Comparing the taking of taxes to provide very moral actions like providing health care for poor people and children, to things like stealing or stripping people of all there worldly possessions is simply not, in my mind, a sound argument. At its core your argument ends up boiling down to, "It is wrong for a government to take taxes from people, because doing so is the same as stealing, or other immoral actions." Taxes are a necessary part of any government. At what point does it become wrong for everyone to be required to give for the common good (i.e. taxes)? Are roads built with our hard earned money wrong and immoral? Are schools and public education paid for with tax dollars immoral? Is it wrong for the government to take a little money from me to pay for someone else's house to be saved from a fire? Was using tax dollars to save my son immoral?

      Taxes are not immoral simply because they involve taking money from people. Our forefathers did not revolt because of taxes, they revolted because they were being taxed without representation. They were not allowed to participate in the democratic process of voting on which taxes were okay and which taxes were not.
      Can taxes become immoral? Sure. If taxes become so high and oppressive they are keeping people from living and even thriving and being able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, then something has gone wrong. This is not what is taking place with the ACA.

      ACA is simply another tax (one of many) taken to provide services for the common good, just like roads, schools, the post office, libraries, the police, and firemen. None of these things are immoral.

  5. Brent, I am trying to take this discussion one step at a time so forgive me if I don't address all of your points in each installment. You have made some great points and clearly we will need to address them at some point.

    So for now, I just want to make sure we agree. It sounds like you are tacitly agreeing with my point that it is possible for a government, even one that is democratically elected in a form of a representative republic, is capable nonetheless of passing immoral and illegitimate laws. Furthermore, even if the results of legislation are good, if they are built on faulty ethical premises, they can nonetheless be immoral. Is it fair and accurate to say that we both agree on these points before we move on?

    Incidentally, it may be helpful at this point to go on a brief (or long?) tangent. I have read 4 or 5 of your entries and I understand that you used to be a preacher. I know that you now are not a preacher. Do you still adhere to the basic tenets of the Christian faith? If not, do you still believe in a God who has revealed Himself (herself? itself?)? This is actually a fairly important question to our discussion if we are going to understand each other moving forward! But of course, we can still move forward without this question answered if you prefer. I suspect it will come up in the natural course of this discussion.

    1. I would agree with you that laws can be passed which are immoral, even in a democratic society. I would somewhat agree with you that laws can be immoral even if the results are good. On the last point I would have to say that it would likely depend on the situation and the law for me. Not all situations boil down to wrong or right, moral or immoral. Some situations boil down to what is the most moral choice, and what is the most right, or most wrong.

      As to my spiritual beliefs I will say that I have no problem discussing them, but just know that I am not sure exactly what I believe. Most would probably say that I do not adhere to "the basic tenets of Christianity", but that would depend on which tenets you are referencing. If you are referring something akin to the Apostle's Creed, then most of my answers would be somewhere along the lines of "maybe", "I'm not sure", "possibly", and "no" (in no particular order). I do really respect and even try to follow Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, and I see more divine in him than I do in any other place (except sometimes in nature). Most people would probably label me as an agnostic. I am sorry I am not able to answer these questions in a more definitive manner for you. I am just trying to be as honest as possible with you about where I currently am at in my spiritual journey.

      I don't know exactly what you are looking for, but I am guessing you are looking for a frame of reference to place your arguments, and our discussions, within. If it helps you at all I can tell you some things which I do not believe in order for you to better understand me. I do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (or any other scriptures). I also do not believe in the majority of Christian's views on Hell. I see nothing wrong with homosexuality. I do not accept the majority of Christian's views on the cross and atonement. I do not accept that man is born sinful or separated from God (if there is a God). I wouldn't say I disagree with all of the beliefs held by a majority of Christians, but I do disagree with many, if not most, of them.

      I hope this at least somewhat answers your questions. If you desire further clarification, feel free to ask me whatever you like.

  6. Thank you so much Brent for taking time to answer my questions and for doing so graciously and with kindness. This honors me so much and honors the truth which it seems we are both pursuing.

    As for your place of faith, my main goal is to try to establish on what basis we can agree about ethical foundations for our beliefs. In other words, we certainly both believe that murdering someone is wrong but ultimately I would appeal to God's standard as the reason by which we can claim that murder is wrong. If you don't currently believe in God, I must admit this leaves me a bit perplexed as to the fundamental basis by which you make ethical proclamations. It seems to me, considering your current beliefs, it may be more consistent to present your ethical statements merely as opinions rather than universal standards.

    Having said that, I think it is great that you are so candid about where you are currently with your faith! I also think it is perhaps equally important to consider the ramifications of your current doubts. It seems to me that the best you can do is to appeal to some sort of universal agreement (i.e. opinion) on ethics or morality that most "sane" human beings happen (?) to area upon. Which means that ultimately, you are saying that "on the basis of our agreement that murder is wrong" we can say murder is wrong. The weakness in this view is that ultimately it comes down to someone's opinion which they may or may not share with others. For example, while you no doubt believe strongly in your heart that a black man has as much intrinsic value as you do, upon what do you stake that claim if you meet a racist? What about if you are in a room full of racists or a society full of racists? Now surely you are no less wrong in your belief that a black man is equal to you. The trouble is that you have no basis upon which to establish this claim beyond trying to point out the overwhelming similarities (in virtually every way) between the room full of racists and a black man. This can take you a certain distance in the discussion, but at the end of the day, if your racist companions disagree with you, the conversation becomes moot.

    Certainly the same can be said about belief in God, but thankfully it seems that belief in God is virtually universal with atheists, even in Western countries, still making up a very small minority of the global population. No doubt there are still roadblocks in gaining ethical agreement even among theists, but the common belief in God takes them a very long way towards agreement that is not an open option with those who have no belief in God. After all, if we really are just a giant cosmic accident, then on what basis can we appeal to common ethics beyond what we happen to agree on already? You may happen to love your wife, but if some guy wants to kill her, why is this a problem if we are just accidents and if our ethics have no ultimate basis?

    Ok, that was long but I think necessary. Where does this leave us? I think at this point we agree that a government can indeed pass laws which are unethical and immoral. It seems that a government can even pass laws that are ethically baseless but nonetheless lead to good results. So now we would want to move forward cautiously as we try and determine if particular laws are guilty of this weakness. However, as you and I are probably approaching ethics very differently, we may run into some road bumps. I guess I will leave that as my installment for today and let you decide if you want to respond to some of my thoughts on ethics in general or just move forward understanding how we approach that fundamental question quite a bit differently.

    1. You are welcome. I believe in being both kind and as transparent as possible.
      Let me try, as much as possible, to address your points and concerns although I fear doing so is not only going to take us far off topic, but may well be a fruitless endeavor.

      I do not disagree that having a standard upon which to turn to as a basis for moral or ethical decisions is definitely a boast those who believe in a God who has revealed himself through the Bible and Jesus (or through some other source if one is of another faith) could claim in their favor. I have several problems with believing just because someone believes there are standards handed down from God, those standards are moral. If this were accurate than all religious beliefs would be moral. On the issue of slavery I guarantee you that I could find more scriptures supporting slavery than I could find ones which are against it. The fact that you believe your beliefs to be handed down by God does not make them moral or ethical in any fashion. If I was a Satanist who followed the Satanic Bible and claimed Lucifer as my God and the source of all morals and truth, would my actions therefore become moral? Just because you have a basis (God) upon which your morals are built does not make them moral or ethical in any fashion.
      If someone builds their moral and ethical decisions on the teaching(s) of a God, the question then becomes, are those standards truly moral and ethical? How do we know they truly are moral and ethical? Just because a person believes something to be moral or ethical simply because, “God says so” does not make an action or belief actually moral or ethical. Just because you have a standard which you except and believe to be ethical does not make it so. So who decides and how do we decide ultimately what is and is not ethical/

      Simply looking to scriptures (since unfortunately God is not available to have conversations with) cannot be the only source or basis for moral or ethical decisions. The same scriptures support many different morals and ethics. Jesus who Christians believe to be God says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy’ but I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” The same God who is supposedly was one with Jesus also says, “Though shall not kill”. I like the wording here because it does not even say, “Though shall not murder” it says “Though shall not kill.” So it would seem quite clear that killing people is a bad thing because “God says”, correct? The problem is that the same God orders the killing of entire people groups. "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’" (1 Samuel 15) So, is killing ethical or not? Is it moral to kill children and infants? When does it become ethical to kill? Does God not follow his own proclamations? Is God immoral and unethical at times?

    2. My point in all of this is to show that just because someone says their decisions have a basis in scriptures or upon the teachings of a God, this does not necessarily make those decisions moral or ethical in any form or fashion. We as humans ultimately all have to make some form of moral judgments on our own even when considering God and any scriptures which are supposedly divinely inspired.
      Having said all this let me say that I actually do look to the teachings of Jesus as a moral standard for my life. I do not do so simply because, “God says”, but because I have thought logically about them and have tested them by trying to live them out in my life and have found them to contain much that I believe to be true and right. The results which those teachings bring forth both in my life and in the lives of society around me are good and positive results and so I believe those teachings to be true, moral, and ethical.

      I do not mind continuing this discussion of ethics further, but like I said before I fear we will quickly get far off topic (not that this is necessarily a bad thing).

  7. Hey Brent! Thanks for your great reply. I will try to respond to your points fully tomorrow, but for today (today is almost over for me here), I will offer you a Wikipedia article on "kill" or "murder." The Bible actually makes quite a distinction and the word in the 10 commandments is speaking of a type of killing that is considered illegitimate and certainly does not rule out all forms of killing. Murder would be the illegitimate killing of someone out of the context of warfare etc.

    English translations, as you know, are great, but still some of the nuances get missed. In situations like this, it becomes important to go back to the original languages to be able to discern precisely what is being said.

    רצח is a Hebrew word that can be translated "murder, kill or slay" but while in English the word "kill" can be a morally legitimate choice or not depending upon the context, in Hebrew the word רצח implies an illegitimate form of killing.

  8. Thanks for the Hebrew information here. I was unaware since I did not take Hebrew, only New Testament Greek. The question would then become, who decides what constitutes a legitimate form of killing? Most of the rest of my points are still valid. Once again, please forgive my ignorance on the wording of the "thou shall not kill" command.

  9. LOL...I was typing "though" instead of "thou" OOPS :)

  10. no problem. i did study Hebrew (2 different seasons 7 years apart) and I still did what anyone could do…i had to look it up. arrgghh! one day, i will get my languages out and start reading a few verses a day in the original languages until i actually DO know them a bit. at this point, i am equipped to learn them and have studied them both at basic levels but have not polished or even maintained my knowledge beyond the most rudimentary levels.

    ok…so your other points are great and i don't really disagree with them. i guess it just comes down to force of argument. i would say that the fact that a person is made in the image of God means that taking their life is to slap the face of the Almighty. it is to dishonor God's image in another person. the best an atheist (or even an agnostic) can say is "i happen to not like it very much and lots of people agree with that." now that is fine and quite honest. in fact, it will get agreement for the most part MOST of the time, but what moral force is there when a Mao Tse Tung, a Pol Pot or (yes, I am going to confirm Godwin's Law here) a Hitler arises. If all we are really saying about genocide is that we happen to not like it very much.

    Think of it this way. "If there is no God, all things are permissible." (controversially attributed to Dostoyevsky). Regardless of attribution, the fact is that it is correct. Absent a divine ethical mandate, there is no room for a universal ethic on murder, on rape, on genocide or anything else for that matter. If you and I claim a Jew has value because we happen to think this, but a man comes along who hates Jews and kills them, he may even rise to power and kill them systematically. What can we say about this absent a Divine ethical mandate? Just that we don't like it. But hey, if we have most of people on our side, we can even enforce our opinion and this works….most of the time. But I want to say that something like killing a person because of their ethnicity is wrong, absolutely wrong. I want to say that raping a woman just because you can, is wrong, absolutely wrong.

    I am well aware of how an atheist could respond but at the end of the day, the fact that the grand majority of people on the face of the planet have agreed that a God exists and that this God has "commands" by which we are all called to live, is a fairly compelling thing in my opinion. To leave that behind is dangerous in my estimation. It sets a person free to do anything they can get away with as long as they can find some way to assuage their conscious, which is quite doable. I suggest searing by repetition! ; )

    But back to the discussion at hand….

    I would say that your original argument, somewhat shrouded in a powerful personal anecdote still leaves us questioning the morality of the law being praised. I am not saying that I have even begun to show that it is immoral. I am just saying that to argue that an isolate good result (and BOY was it a good one) doesn't show that a law that lead to that result is good. As another simple example of this principle. We could no doubt rid our country of ALL risk of terrorism if we had a police state with cameras in every home and with a Patriot Act X 10 instilled, but what would be lost as a result? So a good result is nice and even important as PART of a metric for morality, but alone it doesn't really prove much as far as I can tell.

    1. Yes, a law can have good results and still be immoral. We have established this and it is a point which I do not think most thinking people, no matter their political leanings, would disagree with. Having said this I was not making a full and complete argument on the morality (or immorality) of socialized medicine. It would take much more than simply telling a small piece of our story in order to complete that task. To say that it is not the soundest of arguments may very well be true, but I was not attempting to make a full and complete argument. This is a blog, not a scholarly article. I was just making a few points which I would like people to consider. Sometimes people simply see a tax as money coming out of their pockets and can miss some of where that money goes, and the good which those taxes achieve.

  11. Fair enough. I think in light of the fact that you grant that you were not actually making a complete argument, I am satisfied. My point was simply to show that your original post made a powerful point but an emotional point rather than an intellectual point (for the most part). Emotions are terribly important and are a gift to us (I would say from God), but they are not a good basis upon which to build public policy. We certainly do need to consider the real life effects our policies have on people and that involves some anecdotal points (in my opinion), but we also have to consider the broader questions of sustainability.

    As an aside, I believe Europe has wildly overreached in their social programs and as the economy has turned strongly negative (with an outlet that is similarly to more pronouncedly negative for the foreseeable future) they are now going to have to make some very tough decisions. The problem with the message that the state should take care of its populace rather than merely protect freedom and economic opportunities is that these seasons will inevitably come. We can say all we want about "rights" (another fascinating discussion we should have perhaps as it is implied by your blog in several points), but if the money isn't there, those "rights" disappear rather quickly.

    Therefore, I think those who support healthcare should avoid any such talk of "rights" (either explicitly or implicitly) as I think by definition a right is something that is intrinsic to all people and not dependent upon the financial fortunes of a country. If an American has a "right" to public healthcare, then so does every other citizen on earth (in the way I understand the definition of "right" both denotatively and historically). I think the best angle of argument FOR universal healthcare in America would be along the lines of "we can so let's do it" or perhaps "this is something that is going to help the entirety of society for reasons x, y and z." etc etc.

    1. I actually do not disagree with you, except for the fact that I do think all people everywhere should have a "right" to healthcare. The very first of the "inalienable rights" listed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence is "Life". People should have a right to "life". Life should be defended and held sacrosanct; the lives of all people, everywhere. If we can provide healthcare, then we should.

      I would not even necessarily argue that it has to be the "state" which provides healthcare. If we can come up with a better system that does not require the government's (either central, state, or local) involvement in order to provide the health needs of the populace, then let's do it. The problem currently is that I see no other realistic option other than to provide these services through a central government.

      Rights are a very tricky subject indeed, and I recognize this. I don't know that any of us truly have any "rights" other than those which are afforded to us by whatever society in which we live. We have the "right" to free speech only because it is afforded to us here in the United States. That "right" could disappear and then we would no longer have that "right". So as you said all "rights" can disappear pretty quickly.

      I simply believe that some things should be held as "rights" for people; healthcare for me is one of those things which I believe people should have a "right" to have. Do we need to be careful about how we do this so that we do not overreach and harm ourselves? Sure. But simply letting people die because they are not wealthy enough to provide the exorbitant fees of our current system, should be seen as unacceptable. Life should be protected as much as possible both within the womb (as I know you believe) and outside of the womb.