Nick Kristoff’s Friend Gone

Nick Kristoff wrote a lengthy piece a week ago about a friend of his who had made choices as to his health insurance when he was young and healthy and broke, that had come back to bite him bad.  He had stage 4 prostrate cancer.

It was an essay about bad choices and the sorrows of one man but also a warning story:  about societies which construct the need for such choices, and about — since that is a given in the US– the need to take those choices seriously.

Kristoff was appalled by the level of vile and contempt heaped on a man who was dying and had said publicly that  it was due in large measure to his own fault.

“Not sure why I’m to feel guilty about your friend’s problem,” Terry from Oregon wrote on my blog. “I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.”

Well, I’ll bet you a days worth of medical bills Terry does not take care of “myself and mine,” at least not as many would count “mine.” Second cousins?  Step-parent after he had left home?  Back in an ideal Rousseauean universe we all knew who were ours and who were not.  Today we’re unlikely to know more than the narrow cone of our own mother-father tree; maybe parents’ siblings and their off-spring, but hardly likely at all to know the “mine” of nieces and nephews.  I have several nieces with several children each, whose names I know but not much more — are they “mine” in Terry’s sense?  And as always, the bottom line is 1) who decides and 2) who enforces?  What if Terry says ‘hell no, that drunkard son of my no good sister is not mine?”  Who, in Terry’s opinion picks up the load?

There is always the option of leaving the bodies in the gutters where they fall.  Even then, sadly for the go-it-alone types, someone has to cart off the cadavers.  If there is no market for cadavers and thus no income to haulers, some kind of tax is imposed, even by the hard heats, because suddenly, a public health problem presents itself to “mine.”

I wouldn’t know, not knowing what Terry does everyday, how correct he is that he even takes care of ‘me.”  Is he trekking in on trails he tramped out himself.?  Is the gasoline he uses completely paid for by himself, and not supported by government grants, or pulled from public land (our land, Terry, not Yours) without havingpaid market rate land-use payments?

Then there is Terry’s — and many like him– heartlessness, hidden behind a brusque masculinity.  Kristoff takes it up:

 Living in a community means being interconnected in myriad ways — including by empathy. To feel undiminished by the deaths of those around us isn’t heroic Ayn Rand individualism. It’s sociopathic. Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but of civilization.

My second argument is that if you object to Obamacare because you don’t want to pay Scott’s medical bills, you’re a sucker. You’re already paying those bills. Because Scott wasn’t insured and didn’t get basic preventive care, he accumulated $550,000 in bills at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, which treated him as a charity case. We’re all paying for that.

Kristoff then reveals that his friend, Scott, has died.

His death was also unnecessary and might not have occurred if he had lived in Britain or Canada or any other modern country where universal health care is standard and life expectancy is longer.

So Scott, old pal, rest in peace. Let’s pray that this presidential election will be a milestone in bringing to an end this squandering of American lives, including your own.

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