By Robert Wallace
The headline read Back from the Dead, and at first glance the article seemed to be just one of those occasional happy, tearful medical miracle stories: A 56-year old man walks into a hospital feeling sick. Minutes later he collapses and his heart stops beating. For nearly an hour a team of doctors work relentlessly. They refuse to give up on the man, performing 4,500 chest compressions and administering 8 electrical shocks while using state-of-the-art technology to cool his body temperature down to 91 degrees to prevent brain damage during the ordeal.
Finally the man’s heart begins to beat again. He is placed in a medically-induced coma, and three days later he awakens with no brain damage.
“These doctors did not stop,” Joe Tiralosi said, fighting through tears to find the words to describe his experience. “Without them, and I’m serious when I tell you, I wouldn’t be here.”
So far, so good, but consider this exchange between a CBS interviewer and one of the doctors who refused to give up on Joe:
CBS 2 HD: Was there a time after 47 minutes in the room when someone said ‘Guys, enough’s enough. Time to end it’?
Dr. Gaudio: There were whispers of that but I imagined that he was a man with a family, with a family someplace and I didn’t want to go out and tell that family that we had lost him. I had to keep going.
Dr. Gaudio and the others who refused to give up on Joe were not making an economic decision. They were not tabulating the cost of their 45 minutes of service. They weren’t factoring into their decision making the expenditure of the three days Joe spent in the medically induced coma recovering. They didn’t estimate the price tag for all the costs that would be incurred testing him during his recovery. They were making a medical decision, the kind of life-and-death decision doctors make every day across this nation.
People who support the current health care reform experts no doubt believe that not worrying about costs is precisely the point of health care. Everything will be covered, right?
The recommendation that women younger than 50 and older than 75 not receive mammograms was an example of the kind of economic calculus that will take creep into our health care system if the government takes over. The government may very well pay for everything that is available, but it will also decide what is available. And when it makes that calculation you can rest assured that dollars and cents will be a part of the equation. And I can tell you right now that when the actuaries are tabulating the expected cost vs the expected benefit of treatments, several doctors and nurses spending an hour beating on the chest of a slightly chilled dead man is not going to make the cut.
Of course the alternative approach–reforming the health care system through free market principles–is not perfect. No system is going to be perfect. No system will ever be able to pay for every conceivable treatment for every person. No system will ever be able to even out the unfairness and randomness that is inherent in mortal life. I won’t promise that a free-market based system will erase human misery and sadness because human misery and sadness are a part of human life. As the Dread Pirate Roberts put it: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The alternatives before us are not free health care vs. health care for the rich. Not only can government-run health care not offer us more efficiency, it can’t even offer us greater equality! (Anyone stopped to wonder why Senators and Representatives are keeping their own health care plan instead of the government option?)
The options we have are a realistic attempt to make the best of an imperfect world versus a deluded attempt to pretend that we can legislate our way back to the Garden of Eden. If we try to make-believe our way back to the Garden of Eden we are going to end up where Utopian efforts always finally crash-land: a dystopia. If, on the other hand, we are willing to embrace the awful randomness and tragedy of life then–out of misery–we will sometimes be able to rescue joy, as Dr. Gaudio and his team did.
The real decision we have before us is the decision between a massive self-inflicted tragedy we will never escape, or natural medical tragedies that–every now and then–we can.
Robert Wallace is classical liberal studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.