Death Care and the Commodification of Life

American Thinker | James Lewis | Aug. 19, 2009

Federal “healthcare” must inevitably turn into “Death Care,” because the bureaucracy will have the sole power to determine the rules under which you and I will live and die. The bureaucrats will have a fixed pot of money, and money spent to save your life comes from the same kitty that is used to give prenatal care to some poor woman from Mexico or Bangladesh. That is what they think is moral — and this is an argument about morality above all. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s brother and big advisor to Obama, considers fee-for-service medicine immoral, because it allows richer people to pay more.

There are all kinds of economic arguments against that position, but that’s what they believe. It assumes, of course, that there is only one lock-box of money, which cannot expand, and which cannot become more efficiently used as we discover new medications. It assumes that costlier medical care today will not pay off in cheaper medicines tomorrow; but that is the whole history of modern medicine. Poor people are benefiting today from the costlier treatments purchased by others yesterday, just as our cheap netbook computers today came out of five decades of developing huge, very expensive, slower, and clunkier computers. Your aspirin pill today costs pennies. The equivalent of willow bark a hundred years ago was much more expensive.

The Socialist commodification of life turns the entire Western tradition of the infinite value of life upside-down. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain takes great pride in insisting on the right the State has to take your organs immediately after you die, without your consent, to make sure your heart and liver stay nice and fresh to be put into another person’s body, for whatever mileage they have left. It is the ultimate commodification of life. But Brown thinks that is the only moral position.

In a way that is difficult to specify, every life is infinitely precious. That is what it means to love someone, and to be loved. My wife and I just spent a lot of money on keeping a favorite cat alive for almost a year longer than she would have had without special care. We made that decision without hesitation. That animal was special to us. It was more than three pounds of meat.

When my father died I fought his passing every step of the way. I was never willing to let him go, and I wanted him to know that. It was the last gesture of love between us. He is infinitely precious to me, and I suppose I was to him. That bond is not reflected in ObamaCare, and cannot be. Obama grew up without a father, being passed from one family and place to the next, and ObamaCare may reflect his commodified view of life. For Obama, people are economic objects.

The human beings we love are not commodities. We don’t trade them against a simple cost accounting. That is not to deny the fact that taking care of people takes money. It does. It is just that we have a dual relationship to other living beings, especially those we love. Martin Buber’s described it as an I-Thou relationship, the link between an experiencing self and another experiencing self. I-Thou (in Buber’s German, Ich-Du) means acknowledging the mirror image of myself in the other. It makes each of us infinitely valuable. In contrast, “I-It” is the relationship I have with commodities that can be traded and exchanged, like a loaf of bread. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bread it is. If I lose a loaf of bread in the market I can always eat wheat crackers instead; bread is a wonderful food, but beyond that it has no intrinsic value. The people and animals we love have intrinsic value.

In the Western tradition the soul has always been treated as immortal and infinitely precious. That is a core concept in our religious traditions, and even in secular philosophy like Plato’s and Kant’s. But when we come to Marxist materialism, a human being becomes just another loaf of bread: A commodity.

All this bears very directly on Obama’s Blitzkrieg to control American medicine. Whether Sarah Palin’s death panels will convene this year or in ten years doesn’t matter at all. Palin is correct in that at some point her little son Trig with Down Syndrome will become commodified.

I once had a conversation with a medical doctor in Belgium. This was soon after the Terri Schiavo case, and this man was in charge of a critical care facility. Medical scientists had just made the major discovery that perhaps forty percent of the “Terri Schiavo” cases, people who seemed to be in permanent coma, were in fact intermittently conscious. Those facts came out soon after Schiavo was allowed to die.) We now know that the sleep drug Ambien can arouse some people from long-term coma.

So a big argument was raging whether people in coma should be monitored for more than four weeks, using EEG and video cameras, to see if they showed signs of life. The critical care doc didn’t want to know about it. His budget had money for three weeks. After that he moved his patients out to the morgue. Life support was disconnected. They were buried or cremated, whatever the family wanted. But the family did not have the choice of spending its own money to try to save the life of their mother or child.

That was the starkest way I’ve ever seen the choice made. It is not a system I would ever want to live under. I want to have the choice to sell my car to save my loved one, or to take out a loan, or a mortgage on a house. The power to make that choice is being taken out of our hands, and that is why Sarah Palin has a more moral position on healthcare than Barack Obama does.

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