Rationing Life in Great Britain

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rationing Life in Great Britain


January 6, 2009

Bruce Hardy probably doesn’t have long to live. But he could live longer, if it weren’t for the attitude and policies of the British government.

As recounted in a New York Times article, Mr. Hardy has kidney cancer that has spread to his lung. His doctor wanted him to take an expensive but effective new drug that has been shown to delay cancer progression for six months.

But Her Majesty’s government refused the request. The Times reports: “If the Hardys lived in the United States or just about any European country . . . Mr. Hardy would most likely get the drug, although he might have to pay part of the cost. . . . But at that price, Mr. Hardy’s life is not worth prolonging according to a British government agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.”

(In a supreme irony, the institute’s acronym, NICE, is the same acronym C. S. Lewis used for the evil institute in his classic novel, That Hideous Strength.)

The Hardy case highlights many of the problems with socialized medicine: government rationing of health care, a lack of options, and an ultimate devaluation of human life. Remember, in most other countries, Mr. Hardy could have his treatment if he paid for part of it—but Britain isn’t even giving him that choice. The government makes the health-care decisions. It’s all out of his hands.

And the really scary thing is that other countries are starting to look to Britain as an example of how to manage health care!

Says the Times, “Top health officials in Austria, Brazil, Colombia and Thailand said in interviews that NICE now strongly influences their policies.” And even here in the United States, some are calling for the adoption of some of NICE’s practices, including officials with Medicare and Medicaid.

Way back during the Clinton era, I predicted that we’d have this kind of debacle here in America if the advocates of socialized health care got their way. As I pointed out then: “The truth is that capping costs will inevitably mean reducing services: Hospitals will have to stop using all the expensive medical technology. In plain English, they will have to stop treating so many people [that] people who are elderly, handicapped, or chronically ill will be pushed to the end of the line.”

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening to Bruce Hardy.

Yes, soaring health-care costs are a major problem, and we need solutions. But the great danger of systems like Britain’s is that they invariably end up with the government performing a version of the old lifeboat exercise that so many children learn in school now: deciding whose life is worth saving and whose life should be thrown overboard.

It doesn’t matter how effective or efficient these systems may look on the surface. A government that takes upon itself the right to play God is a government that is not safe for its citizens.

“Everybody should be allowed to have as much life as they can,” Bruce Hardy’s wife, Joy, told the Times.

As we deal with our health care problems here in America, we would do well to remember her words. The goal of every government should be not to ration life, but to do everything possible to create a system that preserves it.


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.

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