Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What Culture of Life?

Hypocrisy isn't a beautiful thing. It's a sad thing.

Tirhas Habtegiris, a 27-year-old terminal cancer patient at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, was removed from her ventilator last month because she couldn't pay her medical bills. The hospital gave Ms. Habtegiris' family 10 days' notice, and then, with the bills still unpaid, withdrew her life support on the 11th day. It took Ms. Habtegiris about 15 minutes to die.

Hmmm. I recall a certain situation in which Congress, the Governor of Florida, and even the President intervened and it was a lot like this. I wonder why they didn't in this case. I'll leave you to decide that.

Daily Kos is making this exact point. Yes, I'm ashamed to be linking to Daily Kos, but I think they've really pointed out a profound moment of conservative hypocrisy. And while YucatanMan is exactly right that this is a parallel situation, he's exactly wrong into trying to turn this into some sort of spin in favor of universal health care against then- Gov. Bush's "economic considerartions" law. This is sad, but it's not the basis for sound policy.

Slate gives him the brutal fisking he deserves there.

This is not to deny that the health-care system needs a massive overhaul; it does. But that's not the issue on the table here. The issue is: Given the current system, should or should not the federal government (or Baylor Medical Center, or somebody) effectively guarantee that nobody will ever die for lack of a ventilator? In other words, should poor people be given ventilator insurance?

The bloggers at Daily Kos say yes. But for the same cost, we could give each of those people a choice between ventilator insurance on the one hand or $75 cash on the other hand. If it turns out that I'm wrong and they all want the ventilator insurance, so be it. But why not at least ask them?

You can't do that with every government service. You can't offer people a choice between police protection and its cash value, because police patrols tend to protect entire neighborhoods at once, not just specific individuals. You might not want to offer people a choice between a flu vaccine and its cash value, because you'd really prefer to have vaccinated neighbors. But critical life support isn't like that; the benefits are targeted to specific individuals. There's no reason those individuals shouldn't be allowed to choose different benefits if they want them.

I tend to agree with Landsburg over at Slate on this one. It makes last year's flap over Terri Schiavo continue to look ridiculous, as there are so many situations like Schiavo's or more tragic that the massive pro-life, anti-euthanasia crowd doesn't sweat a drop over.