Friday, July 21, 2017

Health Care and a Compassionate Response

By now, we've all heard that Senator John McCain has brain cancer, and apparently a pretty deadly form of it. In the wake of that terrible news, the airwaves and social media have been filled with statements of sadness and support, as is appropriate. Many have shied away from any political angle to this development, and those who have ventured into politics with their comments are usually criticized for inappropriately politicizing the tragic health news of a man such as McCain.

Pastor/blogger John Pavlovitz, however, is clear in his belief that this is actually a completely appropriate time to talk about politics, specifically the politics of Health Care:
And that’s why talking about healthcare in the wake of this terrible news isn’t disrespectful, it isn’t in poor taste, and it isn’t political opportunism—it’s the goddamn point.The personal hell that John McCain and his loved ones are walking through right now is the point of it all.
I worry that many are going to focus on the political angle here ("Is it ever appropriate to politicize someone else's health crisis?") and miss the point that Pavlovitz is making in the majority of his article, which is about the importance, indeed the primacy, of compassion, especially when it comes to this issue:
John McCain deserves life. He deserves to have every available resource exhausted to try and make him well. His family deserves this. His wife and his children deserve it. The people who treasure him deserve it. They deserve it, not because he’s wealthy or known or “important”—but simply because he’s loved by someone who wants more time with him. That’s enough for me. Every human being deserves this. Every spouse and every child and every treasured person.
Most big debates are, at some level, really about a conflict of values, and almost all difficult, important debates are about a conflict of mutually agreed upon values. It isn't that you value X and I don't, it's that we both value X, and we both value Y, but X and Y are in conflict. And you and I have a different idea about how to prioritize those values, at least in this instance. 

No one thinks that, if health care were free, we should withhold it from anyone (or, at least no one that I care about in the least--I'll leave the complete crazies to their own devices). And, no one thinks that the government should do everything for everyone, or that it can do so (ditto on that last caveat). In theory, I think we all agree that people having health care is good, and that the government has to have limits on what it does. But, when we actually look at a particular situation, or a particular policy, the conflict begins. 

And, I'm pretty clear that, to me, compassion is the higher value. In this, and possibly in every debate, compassion has to come first. It's not the only value--there do have to be limits. We can't solve every problem, even if we'd like to. But, I start from a place of assuming that, as an advanced and highly prosperous society, we have an obligation to alleviate as much suffering as we can, in everyone that we can.

It's not a complicated philosophy: when people are in pain, when people are suffering, we should try to make it better. And, ultimately, I don't care who "we" is. I don't really care if the government does it, or religious institutions, or a flash-mob. I just want to see it end. If there was a private sector way for all people to receive reasonable and reasonably affordable health care, then I'd be thrilled to see the government get out of the Health Care (really, Health Insurance) business. I don't think that's really possible, so I want to government to stay in it. But, that's not my core fight. My core fight is: less pain, less suffering. Again, it's not complicated. But, that doesn't make it any less important.
I want John McCain to live. I want him to get to spend more time with those who would grieve his loss in ways I’ll never understand. But I want this for you too. I want it for your father and your children and your friends. I want it for those I love. I want it for people I agree with and people I don’t. 
We should be for one another. We should fight for each other’s life with all that we have. 
This is what America does when she is at her best.