Home > Uncategorized > Changing the way we think about healthcare

Changing the way we think about healthcare

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

My last post drew a lot of comments, and a lot of interesting debate about healthcare. This seems to have died down now, but I still feel a certain lack of closure. I feel like, in the midst of all the political debate, the most important considerations, in regards to this particular issue, have not even really been addressed. Though the original post was about much more, all of our debate centered around the best way of financing healthcare. This was all basically working under the assumption that healthcare is something to be bought, that it has a price on it. Even the liberals, who argue on moral grounds that the government should pay for our healthcare, fall victim to this to this way of thinking. Liberals are certainly right in saying that healthcare is our collective responsibility, and that we all should chip in for it. The problem with their view is simply that they don’t go far enough with what that means–they simply conclude that, because of this, the government should “pay for” healthcare for everyone. Now, even if the economics of this happen to work out better than the current scenario, I think we will still have many issues. I think that the intrinsic problem to all of this is that we, as a society, are thinking of healthcare as a commodity, as something which can be bought at the right price. I believe that as long as we are looking at it like this, there will be problems. The liberal solution and the conservative solution share the defect that both are far too focused on the economic side of the problem–I believe that this economic emphasis is itself at the root of the problem.

In the comments of my post, I found myself defending a conservative take on healthcare, on the grounds that the liberal solution would cause more problems than it would solve. I did this because I wanted to address the whole issue from the “practical” angle that I had said the question ought to reduce to, once it was recognized that both sides agree on the moral imperative of improving healthcare. When it comes to practical questions, I tend to lean conservative. But really, I had all along a simpler ground on which to criticize the liberal solution, and the conservative solution along with it. A basic theme of my original post was that collective evils–that is, wide scale social problems, like the lack of healthcare–tend to be the cumulative result of many individual evils. One thing that I believe contributes to the problems we have with healthcare is a flawed way of thinking about it that most of us, liberal or conservative, succumb to. The truth is, neither the liberal solution nor the conservative one really address this problem.

Healthcare in the Kingdom of God

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4.38-44)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22.1-2)

Healthcare, from the standpoint of the coming kingdom of God, is fundamentally about free healing, about something freely given. The healing of individuals, and the restoration of the health of the world, is a part of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. If we are to emulate the attitude Jesus had towards healing, we are to give it simply because people need it, and not because of anything we will get out of it. We must do it simply out of a love of our neighbor, because we are to view their health as being as important as our own.

As things stand now, however, the life saving drug that a person needs still comes at a price. A doctor will provide care, but this is because he knows beforehand that the insurance company has agreed (directly or indirectly) to pay him. And under a government health insurance plan, it would be no different: the doctor would provide care, but this is because he knows that the government will pay him. It doesn’t take place exactly like this–at least hospitals are, after all, legally required to treat someone, regardless of whether or not they can pay. And there are many doctors who routinely sacrifice their own benefit in order to go against these financial conventions and provide help to people who need it. But it is certainly true that a major interest of many of the people who get into the medical field is money. This is something that needs to be changed.

There are some things that only a trained professional can do, and of course he ought to be compensated for his contribution to society. So I am certainly not saying that we should stop paying doctors! But what I am saying is that we need a collective improvement in how all of us think about the health of our neighbors. I think we have to reach a point in which everyone, doctor or not, accepts in his heart that the health of those around us is actually all of our responsibility. We must realize that improving it means, ultimately, changing the way that we all relate to each other.  This is not easy. It means much more than a sacrifice of tax dollars. It means sacrificing our time, our energy, even our deepest aspirations, to be with those who are sick, to really care for them. This isn’t to say that many people don’t do this already. It is just to say that when we, as a society, become better at this, better healthcare will follow naturally. There is no reason why we cannot improve both our own collective medical knowledge and our own willingness to help each other to such a degree that the broken healthcare system we have now would cease to exist as we know it.

I cannot tell you what this looks like; I can only say that when I look at the way things are right now, everywhere I see systemic violations of the basic principle of unconditional love, and thus I see room for improvement.  I know there are people who have thought about this a lot more than me. One that I stumbled across is Patch Adams, who was made famous through the movie that was made about him. The following article, written by him, contains many insights, and I would encourage everyone to read it:


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Janet Thayer Wiliams
    October 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Some people might find Patch Adam’ s belabored fun depressing. And if someone had an actual medical condition that needed attention, I mean like right away, a ruptured appendix or detached retina, to name the 2 things that occurred to people I know in the last 2 weeks, Patch’s homey hospital/commune would not be the place to go. And he had to shut down to spend ALL his time fund raising. I find his insights kind of creepy, frankly. I haven’t seen the movie, though.

    • October 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

      Patch Adams is someone who is at least thinking about a different paradigm for healthcare. I’m sure no one is going to agree with 100 percent on what this looks like, but it’s good that he’s thinking about it, and is willing to try things that are different than the current system.

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