A health care parable
By Jason Sagall
Your wife is stricken with a terrible medical condition. Her insurance benefits just ran out. You need money for her treatment.
You go to your next-door neighbor and tell him about your wife's misfortune. You demand $5,000.
Your neighbor is stupefied. Still, he expresses sympathy for your situation. He refers you to a registered charity and offers to connect you with someone who could help start a campaign to raise donations for your wife. He gives you a check for $100.
Your frustration mounts. Your emotional state is the equivalent of that which one feels from the recognition of a moral injustice, as if nature has the ability to inflict illness upon your wife by a conscious, concerted intent to rob her of her life.
Although your reason tells you no one is to blame, you let your mind obsess on the fact that your neighbor earns a lot more money than you or your wife. You rationalize that he really ought to give you more than $100, in the name of fairness, equality, social justice.
Indeed, you have gleaned through cultural sensibilities that, by right, you have some claim on the time, money, goods or services of others. Moreover, you hold that those who have should give to those who have not, as a matter of moral duty. You feel justified--even righteous--in compelling others to act in accordance with moral truth as you see it.
So you point a gun at your neighbor and demand more money. While you are uneasy about this, you repeat to yourself that you have the moral high ground; that, in the grand scheme of things, you are doing the right thing--and so too will your neighbor, if he acquiesces.
Your neighbor begs you to understand that you have no right to initiate force against him. You grant this, for now, and put the gun away. But you have another plan.
You organize a local town hall meeting and invite your Congressman.
Most in attendance agree that a reasonable solution for those struggling to pay their medical bills is to control some of the coveted money of their neighbors. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, you argue, does not employ an immoral means but a necessary one, in the service of a noble end. Your answer is one of exalted compassion for those in need.
And the practical method of carrying out this crusade is to decree it the law of the land. Your Congressman is quick to agree.
Many others summarily object. Your neighbor says that America is a constitutional republic, in which each person has an unalienable right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, according to the moral judgment of the individual.
You remind him that we also live in a democracy, which means that everything is subject to vote, and such liberties are subordinate to the will of the majority.
But the majority is not selfish, you assure your neighbor: if ever he finds himself in need of health care, he will get his share of other people's money. By having to pay into the gang, he becomes an inextricable part of it.
Your neighbor is only saddened and angered by your zeal to force him into a collective of moral cannibals--a system that turns each person into, at once, prey and predator, victim and thief.
Americans are continually exploited as a result of their inability to identify or unwillingness to acknowledge the contradictions in their entrenched moral premise of sacrifice to the collective. If they were to embrace a morality of rational self-interest--the code consistent with their constitutional principle of individual liberty--those with political power would no longer be able to break down individual rights while pretending to uphold them.
Jason Sagall is a writer for Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, Newport Beach, California. Copyright © 2010 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.