Tuesday, May 13, 2008

[Readers, please indulge me in a little fantasy. Pretend that I am a Unitarian Universalist candidate for the presidency of these United States, speaking on the subject of health care. Note: I actually did give this speech during both Sunday services on May 11, 2008, at First Unitarian Denver.]

It’s hard to imagine someone like myself—a gay, atheistic, unreformed, unabashed, and unrepentant 1960’s-era liberal—running for any public office today. Most likely, I could get every member of my political “base” to the polls in a Volvo station wagon, a Toyota Prius, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

However, never one to concede “family values” to the likes of James Dobson and Pastor John Hagee, I will take these few minutes to explain how, for me, Unitarian Universalism informs my opinions on health care.

Because I subscribe to the proposition that every human being has inherent worth and dignity, I believe that a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system is the ONLY moral solution to the mess that American medical practice is in today.

Many decry such a plan as “socialized medicine”. My response is, “Why shouldn’t the treatment of disease be socialized? Public health is the most socialized science known to the human race.”

For those of you who saw the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams, you will likely recall the scene early on when Abigail Adams, left alone to raise their four children and terrified at the prospect of the entire family coming down with smallpox, makes the incredibly courageous decision to have the family inoculated against that horrific disease. The doctor makes a house call with a horse-drawn cart containing the pox-ravaged body of a teenaged boy. Using a crude instrument, the doctor scrapes some of the erupted goo from a pustule on the boy’s body, which he then rubs into a small cut on an arm of each member of the family. The only daughter, Nabby, develops a mild form of the disease but survives.

Every new drug, surgical procedure, or therapy for a medical condition devised by the minds of men and women depends for its efficacy on clinical trials. Human bodies are the laboratories for medical breakthroughs. These people volunteer to subject themselves to some degree of risk for the sake of medical science. Since almost half of the American population either has no health insurance or say they’ve had trouble getting the health care they need despite having insurance, we must ask the value-driven question, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”

As Bill Moyers reported on his Journal on PBS this past Friday, if an ordinary citizen has had four major heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, an implantable defibrillator in his chest, atrial fibrillation, cardio vertigo, and a heart rhythm that goes out of whack, he would likely be uninsurable for having a preexisting condition. Vice President Dick Cheney fits this exact description and yet cannot be denied insurance at the public expense because he is an employee of the federal government, no matter how serious his heart condition.

We are the wealthiest nation on earth—for now—whose citizens experience disease, injury, and disability as capriciously as the citizens of any other country, yet for whom the ability to receive the care that would mitigate or cure these conditions is parceled out via an immoral and undemocratic merit system based upon ability to pay. Under such a system, there is nothing inherent about the worth and dignity of anyone. Your worth and dignity are measures of what’s in your bank account. My religious tradition finds this notion to be repugnant.

Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations is another tenet of my faith. Yet, within the health industry, justice, equity, and compassion is meted out based not upon need or professional opinion but often upon the career prospects of an insurance company employee whose bonus is based upon the number and size of the claims that he or she denies. My religious faith finds this notion to be odious.

My faith also values the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. To me, this means that when truth is established, the responsible thing to do is to make reality conform to that truth--even if it means brushing aside reactionary attempts to impugn, deny, or obfuscate the truth; even if it means confronting a very powerful lobby or forcing the privileged to face up to the injustice of their circumstance and put their lot in with “common folk”; even if it means admitting that we CAN learn from other nation’s experience, keeping the good and discarding the bad.

My faith also believes in respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In this spirit, I would like to offer a truly radical notion that would make power brokers of both political parties and the Kings of K Street alike cringe: No one, no matter how wealthy or powerful, should have access to health care that is not available to everyone.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

A for-profit health care system is a roadblock against Jefferson’s idea of the human birthright. If you believe as I do, I ask for your vote as the future President of these United States of America. Together, we can restore Life where today there is Death and Disease, Liberty where there is Financial Obligation, and Happiness where there is Misery.

Thank you.

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