Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Earned" Health Care

It seemed like a rather routine Sunday morning at our church. Our congregation had made the decision the previous year to go to two services and I had just finished preaching the early service, when I received word that one of my members was not only in the hospital, but has on a ventilator and the family was waiting to make the decision to take her off of the machine and let her die. Her husband, also a member, wouldn't make the decision until I arrived.

After 22 years as a pastor, this was a first. Anita, the woman, was one of the most beloved member of our church. She had been a member there virtually all of her life and was in her late 50's. I performed the wedding ceremony in which she married Raymond, some years before. She had not only raised her children, but her grandchildren. She sung in the choir, she was a member of the Women's Ministry, she was a faithful and loyal church member.

What I thought was going to be a rather quick matter, lasted several hours, in fact I missed the second service. I prayed with the family, helped them understand what the doctors were saying about her condition and counseled them to make the decision that they could live with. We all knew that at that moment Anita was no longer breathing on her own, there was no brain activity, and they decided to let her go. We all said our good-byes, prayed again and watched her pass on.

Anita had cancer. I knew she had been in remission, but the cancer had returned, but she wasn't taking anymore treatment. Why? She had no health insurance. Her husband had health insurance when the cancer was first detected, and she was initially being treated. But he lost his job and could only find work with a temp agency that provided no benefits. Tired of being sick and unable to afford expensive chemotherapy, she simply made the decision to not get treatment. It wasn't common knowledge. In fact I didn't know until after she died that it had come to that. She knew they couldn't afford her illness and simply decided not to be a burden.

I read a response to our president and CEO, Larry James' blog regarding health care in Canada that made me think about Anita: it said simply, 'Health care is NOT a right, it has to be earned' (the post was actually on the site that crossposts Larry's, Janet Morrison's and my blogs, http://www.everydaycitizen.com/. The response has since been removed).

How do you 'earn' health care'? Who makes the decision that someone else's physical, emotional, mental quality of life is expendable? Do you have to earn more money than Anita? Avoid being laid off, like Raymond? How much education do you have to have in order to 'earn' health care?

Anita was a high school graduate. Did she need a college degree? Being a faithful Christian and devoted church member didn't place her among those who 'earned' the right to affordable health care? Or was it the disease that disqualified her?

Is 'earning' health care a moral issue? And if that is the case, what aspect of morality disqualifies one from that privilege? Can you engage in premarital sex, but qualify if you make enough money? Or can you be greedy or fraudulent? And if its greed and fraudulence, what's the income level that constitutes the 'earned health care' threshold? If I'm materialistic but make $20,000 I'm disqualified, but I've 'earned it' if I make $200,000?

Maybe Anita should have put her grandchildren up for adoption. Or maybe she should have abandoned them to their parents who, admittedly because of their own irresponsibility, were unable to take care of them.

For awhile, Anita lived what some of us thought was a hard life. But she overcame that and she was compassionate and forgiving of those who made mistakes with their lives. Was she unqualified to receive the health care she so desperately needed because she hadn't dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't', throughout her entire life?

How do babies 'earn' health care? How do those with mental health challenges? Or those with birth defects?

It must be easy to make such pronouncements when the medicines we take are all in some way regulated by the federal government; when we all have to sign government mandated documents when we go for our doctors visits; when the government sets the rules on who can provide insurance; when the government determines who can and who cannot be a doctor; what can or cannot be a hospital, and what does and doesn't constitute health care, to declare that to provide health care to those who haven't 'earned' it is socialized medicine. After all, those of us who have health insurance aren't expendable. After all, we've earned the right to keep living.

Since we have that 'right', couldn't we have more humane attitudes?
Guess that might be too much to ask...


Anonymous said...


You know I am the one 'guilty' of removing the comment that said 'Health care is NOT a right, it has to be earned' at Larry's post over at EverydayCitizen.com

I realize that the person who wrote the comment had the right to say it (that is that health care has to be earned) but the day I read that comment, it just made my heart sink like a lead balloon. Since I've seen, first hand, through my career in hospital management, the awful terrible choices that the uninsured have to make in our society - and since I know that every day Americans are dying simply because they have no access to basic preventative health care, that person's comment just hit me wrong and I deleted it! Now I feel guilty! If I had known that you would be writing such a smart and intelligent response to that one liner - I'd have left it there.

Thank you for responding to it. Health care and the problems of our health disparities is something that weighs on my conscience and heart daily.

Pam Pohly
Editor, EverydayCitizen.com

Gerald Britt said...


I'm am getting used to people being unkind when it comes to the poor, but I was just absolutely astonished that someone could be that insensitive!

I obviously understand how you feel. Thank you for your work and your heart...

belinda said...

May I copy this post to share with others?

Gerald Britt said...

You certainly may. Thanks for asking...