Friday, September 20, 2013

A Case for Universal Healthcare: Sad Lessons from a Beautiful Country

Here is a practical situation to consider for you, the reader:

        You are a poor farmer somewhere in the developing world. You have one-hundred dollars. That is all that you have, your entire life savings. You have crops in the field that may be ready to sell in a few months, but more than likely, you will break even (at best) from all your hard labor. One-hundred dollars is all the disposable income you possess, stashed in a box underneath the family bed in your little one-room wooden shack.
        An elderly family member, let's say, your grandfather, then becomes very ill. As a caring grandchild, you take your grandfather to the local hospital where he is given a number of tests and treated with increasingly more expensive medications. You do your best with the limited funds you have, selling livestock and milk and the family TV when they prove insufficient. Soon these funds have been depleted almost entirely.
        Your grandfather's situation does not improve; in less than a month he has deteriorated to the point of being bed-ridden, stuffed full of drugs that make him hazy and nauseated, but that are at least able stop the pain radiating from his abdomen where an infection has slowly spread to his kidneys.
        The doctors inform you that they can and must operate in order to save his life, but that operation costs about one-thousand dollars. Your limited funds are almost gone, you have no where else to turn, no health-insurance or savings account somewhere. The box under the bed is all but empty.
         Now, your grandfather is 80 years old. An operation to treat him may buy a few more years of life, maybe a decade at best. At the same time, if it is even possible to gather the necessary funds, you will be in debt to any number of different people or institutions for the rest of your life, seeing as a “net yearly income” for a subsistence farming family almost does not exist. Not to mention the fact that, with what little surplus savings you had being used up, you will be just that much less able to provide for the rest of your family for the year. 

        So finally, here is the question: do you let your grandfather wither and die, or do you do everything necessary to save his life?
       A bonus question: which of your family members, brothers and sisters or aunts and uncles, gets to break the news to your grandfather that his operation cannot be funded, that he will be returning home next week to wait for death?
        Now imagine: this same situation, but with your parents, siblings, or your own children. How do you make this calculation? How do you determine to what extent the lives of your family members are worth to you on a very real and practical level? Imagine putting a monetary sum on the life of every member of your family? What are they worth?

        The answer, obviously, is that our family members are priceless in the greatest sense of the word. I would do anything, absolutely anything for my grandparents, aunts and uncles, mother and father, sisters and even my closest friends (who are as much of family to me as my own family). But I also have one great advantage, one amazing leg-up that gives me the ability to value them to an infinite monetary degree: I am an educated white male from a middle-class American family. In comparison to the majority of the rest of the world, I am orders of magnitude wealthier and more privileged. As middle-class citizens (as I imagine most readers are), we are more wealthy than over 92% of the rest of the planet.
        I have had healthcare and will have healthcare for my entire life, as does every member of my family. I will never need to decide based on financial considerations whether or not to save the life of any member of my family. I am wealthy enough (my family is wealthy enough) and, despite my significant amount of college debt, have the capability to command enough capital that I will never have to look at anyone in my family and tell them that their fate will be left up to chance because there is just not enough pennies in the piggy bank, or in the shoebox under the bed.
        The situation I described above is exactly what is happening at this very moment to my nearest and dearest Paraguayan friend, Don Zaccarias and his family. It is not, however, some heartbreaking anomaly, but instead the latest repetition of a vicious poverty trap that I have seen play out time and time again with many different families during my time here in Paraguay. It is also not a cycle that is confined to this country, but exists everywhere in the world that poverty exists, that is to say, everywhere in the world, developing and developed nations alike.
        So this is my case for universal healthcare. It is not an argument of numbers, or of political allegiances, or even one of morality. Is is simply an appeal to your empathy, your ability to put yourself in this situation and realize that it would destroy you, absolutely break your fucking heart to have this happen to you and your family. That is all. Empathize.
        For those conservatives and Republicans and anyone else out there that might say, “But they didn't earn it! Why should we pay for some lazy people to keep free-riding on the system?” I say that you are cold, heartless bastards who are desecrating and defaming the socialist values of your self-proclaimed savior Jesus Christ as you simultaneously use his words to wage war and further social injustice. Your morality is a sham, your sense of humanity is archaic and un-evolved at best, and you have no idea about the trials faced by those living in poverty, those under-represented, unheard minorities that we have relegated to the rank of second-class citizens, vassals in the racist, patriarchal hierarchy of our capitalist dystopia. You don't know hard work like these people know hard work. You know what feels like hard work to a privileged upper-class with soft hands and an overdeveloped sense of self-righteous entitlement.
        If you cannot understand and empathize with the unnecessary human suffering caused by simple situations such as not having basic healthcare, than you are not human or at least, you have hollowed out that part of your heart and filled it with self-congratulatory narcissism. Either that or you are just an ignorant snob.
        There is no reason in our modern world that anyone should have to experience this. If we are truly a progressive society, a progressive species, such things will someday soon be relegated to the past. That is my sincere hope. Its just continually surprising to me that, at this day in age, where the world is connected like never before, where technology has made the most miraculous things commonplace, where wealth exists in quantities that defy the imagination, that such injustice continues to thrive.

from Paraguay,

-little hupo

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