September 18, 2009
In the midst of the very heated debate going on about health care reform, one thing is becoming clearer and clearer—most Americans do not trust the government to make health care decisions for themselves or their families.
You don't have to look far to see that their mistrust is well founded. Check out the British press virtually any day online, and you will find horror story after horror story about what can happen when the power of life and death is handed over to a government bureaucracy.
I've spoken before about Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (and I've also pointed out the sinister irony of that organization's acronym, NICE, which was the center of evil in C.S. Lewis's famous novel That Hideous Strength). NICE and similar agencies are setting health-care guidelines for the British National Health Service that are leading directly to a devaluing of human life.
Take the story of Bruce Hardy, who was denied the expensive cancer treatment his doctor wanted him to undergo. He was not even given the chance to pay for part of the treatment himself.
Just this month, Rosemary Munkenbeck told the Daily Telegraph that doctors withdrew fluids and drugs from her father elderly father, Eric Troake, after he suffered a stroke. He appears to have been treated according to a National Health Service "pathway scheme" for dying patients—even though it was not clear that he was actually dying, and despite having said that he wanted to live to be 100 if he could.
"[Doctors] say my sister and I are cruel and are trying to hold on to our father," Munkenbeck said. "But this man has a right to life....He's not suffering from a terminal illness, he just had a stroke. We just feel they decided from the beginning that he's 95 so they've written him off."
And the Daily Mail recently carried the story of Sarah Capewell and her son, Jayden, who was left to die by doctors because he was born at 21 weeks and five days. Had he been born only two days later, Jayden would have been given medical assistance and might have survived. But British government guidelines for National Health Service hospitals state: "If gestational age is certain and less than [22 weeks] it would be considered in the best interests of the baby, and standard practice, for resuscitation not to be carried out."
Though Jayden, delivered by a midwife, was breathing on his own and moving his limbs, doctors refused to treat or even see him. Capewell says she said to one doctor, "You have got to help," and he responded, "No, we don't."
Some lives may indeed be impossible to save. But what we have here is a government bureaucracy that has the power to determine—as a matter of policy—not to save lives that could be saved. In essence, determining whose life is worth the expense.
The proper, biblical role of government is to protect the well-being of its citizens—to provide security and promote justice, not to usher them into the next world by denying them medical care.
Do we need health care reform? Of course we do; I've said so before. But as Christians, we must not assent to giving unaccountable bureaucrats the power to determine the value of a human life—or to withhold medical care from those whose survival is somehow deemed outside the national interest.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.