Here is one of those questions I'll have to put in the "Glad I don't have to answer it" column, but I can't get it off my mind for other reasons.
Emilio Gonzalez is a terminally ill 17-month-old boy who "lives" on a hospital ward in Austin, Texas. There is no chance that Emilio will ever get well. His court appointed attorney/guardian ad litem has filed a legal brief in which he asserts that "there is no constitutional right to medical treatment and Emilio does not have a fundamental right to life-sustaining treatment."
This situation is a nightmare for myriad reasons. And the worst of them for me is that I can see both sides of the argument.
Emilio's mother is fighting to keep him on life support. This woman is indigent; she has nothing, and now the hospital is telling her that they cannot do any more for her child. Medicaid is paying for Emilio to live on a respirator. The doctors assure us that Emilio's case is hopeless.
For all the posturing and talking, part of me believes that the problem is not that Emilio is going to die, as the doctors say, but rather that no one is paying the bill. I have to wonder what they would be saying if Emilio's family had the cash.
There's another reason this bothers me. "Emilio does not have a fundamental right to life-sustaining treatment." Now read the following sentences, several times, filling in the blank with your own name and the names of the people you love most:
"_________ does not have a fundamental right to life-sustaining treatment."
"_________ does not have a constitutional right to medical treatment."
The statements are absolutely true, but they alarm me in a way I find hard to describe. I've been turned away from doctors because they thought I did not have medical insurance. I have known people who have lost their homes and been forced into bankruptcy over medical bills they were unable to pay.
The majority of working people with health insurance in this country have just enough coverage to get them into a financial bind from which they will never be able to recover.
I told my physical therapist that everytime I saw a "Life Flight" (helicopter ambulance) fly over, I thought to myself, there goes somebody's life savings. She replied, "But insurance covers that, doesn't it?" Yeah, right. If insurance covers it at 80%, the ride will cost the patient upwards of $2000. Heaven help the poor guy whose insurance maxes before it gets this bill.
I think about what could happen if I get into another really bad wreck on my motorcycle. I had one last year that resulted in a broken wrist that cost $20,000, including ambulances and surgeries. Thank heaven I wear gear! Imagine if I had broken more.
I think I want to tell my family to weigh the cost of my medical bills and the quality of life after this sort of catastrophe, and decide against keeping me alive if it means permanent disability and permanent crushing indebtedness; then I realize that when they are watching me loaded into the ambulance, the only thing they will be able to do is beg the paramedics to save me. They will be thinking with their hearts and not their heads at that point.
There will be a time when medical care will be on a prove-you-can-pay-first basis. Medical bills already affect credit scores. And who can walk away from a loved one because of the financial damage his or her illness or injury might cause? I don't know if I could.
We could do better in this country, if only EVERYTHING was not based on the free market (greed). I wonder if we ever will.
Friday, May 11, 2007
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