I’ve written occasionally about Medical Ethics and the misalignment of incentives that pay doctors & hospitals for treating symptoms rather than keeping us well. As we consider reforms to contain runaway deficit spending, we must come to grips with many ethical questions. Since individual choices can determine our health and well being, and therefore the cost of care, we’re less sympathetic of people still smoke, drink or eat too much of the wrong things. We know that obesity is America’s #1 health & financial risk and that it can cause heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. Since half of our population is overweight from lifestyle choices, should they get the same level of care at taxpayer expense?
A new question arose this week about medical ethics and marriage when religious leader Pat Robertson told his 700 Club television audience that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease is justifiable. He was taking questions from the audience when Robertson was asked how to advise a man who began seeing another woman after his wife started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
“I know it sounds cruel,” he said, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.” After all, it’s “a kind of death.”
Apparently “compassion is out of fashion,” according to New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman.
“During Monday’s G.O.P. presidential debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, ‘That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.’ Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether ‘society should just let him die.’ And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of ‘YEAH!’”
Krugman’s article observed that the “freedom to die” even extends to children and the unlucky as well as the poor and foolish.
Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of safeguards against “common hazards of life” through programs such as Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, and unemployment insurance? We’ll find out next November.