Forgotten in the Health Care Debate

Proponents of health-care reform in the United States obviously have the patients’ interests at heart. For millions of Americans today, medical treatment is impossible to pay for while the system altogether is growing evermore expensive. The needs of those who can’t afford care are at the forefront, but the wishes of doctors and nurses are often overlooked — or ignored.

That the position of medical professionals is typically excluded from the public debate is telling. Proponents of regulated or public health care, perhaps unwittingly, promote the view that medical care is a citizen’s right. If that is true, someone must provide for it and their rights must be considered too.

Both the Democratic Party and the American Medical Association, which is supposed to lobby for doctors’ interests in Washington DC, claim that the medical profession at large is in favor of reform. A nationwide poll conducted in September of last year however shows that two out of every three practicing physicians opposes the overhaul as proposed by the ruling party. So much as 45 percent of them would even consider retirement if the Democrats get their way while 72 percent does not believe that their plans could cover America’s uninsured with better care at lower cost.

Of course, this is one poll and it might not fully and accurately reflect the opinion of medical professionals throughout the United States. Unfortunately, no similar research has been undertaken recently to allow for a more balanced view. What doctors want is apparently of little concern.

In light of this issue there is a fine paragraph from Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged which quotes a minor character, a surgeon by the name of Dr Hendricks, who explains why he refused to practice under socialized medicine.

“I quit when medicine was placed under State control some years ago,” said Dr. Hendricks. “Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I could not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the ‘welfare’ of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, but ‘to serve.’ That a man’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards — never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness at which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in the operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it — and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.”

Comments

  1. They expect that people who become doctors, do it for some kind of moral ideal, not because it is challenging and fiscally rewarding. I’m sure many doctors do get some satisfaction out of giving someone the opportunity to continue living their life, but if we really do value the service they provide (that is a longer life), shouldn’t we be expected to pay for it?

  2. Exactly. I’m sure many in the medical profession are in part inspired to do their work because they can help people, but that’s no excuse to force them to do so.

    Nobody likes to be told what to do. Doctors are no exception.