Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Should American health care be rationed?

US News and World Report offers Two Takes on this issue : Michael Tanner of the Cato institute in Washington DC says yes and Laura Hershey, disability advocate, says no.

Laura's piece is entitled Handicap is Not a Death Sentence and Should Not be Treated as One. Here are a few excerpts:

The situations that worry me most are those involving different definitions of "futile" and "effective." Some nondisabled people think that having a disability is an intolerable state and that medical care can't be considered efficacious unless it restores lost physical or mental functions. In one glaring example, the University of Wisconsin Hospital denied antibiotics to two developmentally disabled people admitted with pneumonia. They needed lifesaving treatment, which was withheld, causing the death of one man. The other finally did receive treatment, at the insistence of his family, and survived. A disability rights group is suing the hospital for discrimination.


Quality of life" arguments are used to bolster these decisions, but the real driver may be cost concerns. While insurers and private hospitals generate huge profits, our healthcare system fails to serve many Americans. It's true that sometimes the opposite happens: People are pressured to accept treatments they don't really want. But overall, the right to refuse treatment is extensively protected by statute and case law and respected by medical practitioners. In contrast, the right to lifesaving treatment is not specifically protected and is no longer necessarily the default option.

Some prominent bioethicists, seeking easy scapegoats for escalating healthcare costs, increasingly question the value of providing care to people with disabilities, whose lives they (mistakenly) consider undesirable.


More of Laura Hershey's writings, including poems, can be found at her site.

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