David Brooks last week penned a remarkable opinion piece for the New York Times suggesting that the root problem underlying our unsupportable national debt is the unreasonable desire of Americans to be cured of their illnesses. DrRich finds this an interesting formulation of the problem.
As DrRich has said many times, it is indeed true that our rising cost of healthcare is the chief driver of our national debt, and therefore is the chief threat to our long-term survival as a civil society. But while DrRich and others have proposed solutions to this problem that would rely on new systems for paying for America’s healthcare, Mr. Brooks’ problem statement admits no such solution.
For Mr. Brooks, since the root problem is the unreasonable attitude Americans have toward disease and death, the only solution must be for Americans to change their attitude*.
*The need to change the attitude of the masses – or to say it another way, the need to change human nature – always turns out to be the fatal flaw of the Progressive program.
Brooks opens his piece with a paen to Dudley Clendinen, a former colleague at the Times, who is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Clendinen’s recent article in the Times Sunday Review revealed his plan to commit suicide before allowing himself to become completely incapacitated by his illness.
DrRich suspects that many of his readers will, as he does himself, understand, respect, and even support Mr. Clendinen’s plan. But understanding, respecting and supporting his plan to commit suicide is different from saying that Mr. Clendinen’s decision is so reasonable that, really, everyone ought to reach the same conclusion, and anyone in his position who does not is somehow being unreasonable (or worse).
But this is exactly what Mr. Brooks is saying. Specifically, Brooks says, “But it is hard to see us reducing health care inflation seriously unless people and their families are willing to do what Clendinen is doing — confront death and their obligations to the living.” In other words, Clendinen is doing no more than his rightful duty. He does not deserve praise as much as people who choose otherwise deserve criticism.
This is not Mr. Brooks’ only message. His other message is that medical progress is an illusion. He points out that the War on Cancer, announced in the early 1970s, has still not been won, and that despite all the research we have done, heart disease has still not been cured. He quotes some famous medical ethicists (DrRich’s favorite people, save the public health experts) as saying “our main achievements today consist of devising ways to marginally extend the lives of the very sick.”
DrRich will not argue that all of our investment in medical progress has been stunningly successful. He will simply remind his readers that neither has it all been futile. Hundreds of thousands of cancer survivors are leading happy lives today who would have been dead from their disease in 1970. And while the mortality rate from heart attacks approached 20% in 1970, today (in the U.S at least) it is around 2%. So while we haven’t cured all cancer or all heart disease, our efforts have still improved and extended the lives of a lot of people.
Mr.Brooks, who passes at the New York Times as a “conservative,” is pretty cozy with the Obama administration. And while DrRich would not suggest that his message to us is directly coordinated with the Obama folks, it is likely that it expresses certain beliefs which the administration, at the least, would not find objectionable.
DrRich has long attempted to convince his readers that the Progressive program is very sympathetic to efforts to stifle medical progress, and to hasten the end of life.
Mr. Brooks’ latest effort is a sign that Progressives may be finally beginning to come out of the closet, to stop beating around the bush – and to openly state their actual healthcare agenda. If so, DrRich praises his honesty and forthrightness.
As an aid to Mr. Brooks and his friends, DrRich has produced a very helpful and very detailed roadmap for how to sell assisted suicide to the masses.