Sunday, June 15, 2008

Parker on Kennedy and Universal Health Care

Dr. Richard Parker has written the following excellent OpEd on Senator Ted Kennedy and universal health care in the June 9, 2008 issue of Capitalism Magazine:
Ted Kennedy vs. Universal Healthcare: A Double Irony
by Richard Parker M.D.

Senator Ted Kennedy recently underwent an operation to remove a brain tumor at Duke University. Besides Hillary Clinton, no other politician in America has devoted as much of his political career to the enslavement of physicians. The name Ted Kennedy (and Clinton) is nearly synonymous with the anti-concept "Universal Healthcare."

It was reported that Senator Kennedy chose his surgeon for this difficult operation after very careful research and consultation with his physicians in Boston. Using his free and independent judgment, Kennedy chose Dr. Allan Friedman, a surgeon renowned for his experience and expertise in the field of neuro-oncological surgery.

No government regulations restricted the Senator in this extremely important personal choice. Facing a life threatening illness, no bureaucrat forced the Senator to chose his surgeon nor hospital from a government "approved" list--a list not generated by Kennedy's independent and free judgment, but by "public servants" who’s expertise is not Kennedy's life, but the arbitrary and byzantine politics of "pull", of favors owed and collected, of political pressure groups and the bitter reality of healthcare rationing. No, Kennedy was not forced to sacrifice his life, liberty nor property in the name of the so-called "greater public good."

The surgeon he chose, Dr. Allan Friedman, has freely devoted his life to treating patients with neurological tumors. Dr. Friedman wasn't coerced into medicine; his patient load is not presently rationed nor stipulated by bureaucrats. Dr. Friedman was still free to accept Senator Kennedy as his patient and was free to choose the best surgical approach for treating the Senator's tumor. No bureaucrat stipulated how many patients per day, week, month or year Dr. Friedman may accept and treat during the long decades he spent perfecting his life-saving skill. Dr. Friedman is still relatively free to use his expert judgment in the face of the awesome responsibility he assumes with each patient he treats.

Ironically, however, if Senator Kennedy succeeds in his ambition of forcing a government financed (and therefore government controlled) healthcare system onto the American people, all these life altering and personal freedoms will vanish with the strokes of a few pens in Washington. This is the reality of any government enforced healthcare system—both patients and physicians will face a vast increase in taxation and the loss of additional property (fines) and liberty (imprisonment) if they violate the morass of arbitrary and contradictory regulations that will descend on a healthcare industry that is already all but crippled with the slow but steady creep of government controls over the past 50 years.

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand predicted one of the most pernicious aspects of so-called "Universal Healthcare"—the refusal of talented minds to be forced at the point of a gun. Dr. Hendricks, a neurosurgeon in Atlas Shrugged, describes the indignation that lead him to leave medicine:
"Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill?... I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything--except the desires of the doctors... I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind--yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating room table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn."
Ted Kennedy will undoubtedly continue his push for the enslavement of physicians with what remains of his political career. What he will evade, of course, is that his surgeon chose to go to medical school and spend decades training for and practicing neurosurgery in what is still the freest healthcare system in the world. What Kennedy will refuse to acknowledge is that under his vision of "Universal Healthcare" he would never have had the absolute freedom to choose his surgeon, nor would his surgeon have had the absolute freedom to treat him.

The fact that "Universal Healthcare" will destroy what freedoms in American medicine still remain (and thus all the Dr. Friedman's under whose virtue the fate of Kennedy's brain now lies), will be not only evaded but explicitly denied—never mind that Kennedy chose not to go to one of the many "industrialized countries that provide 'Universal Healthcare'." Apparently, Kennedy ignored Michael Moore's claims of the excellent healthcare provided in other "industrialized" communist and socialist nations that provide "Universal Coverage", albeit this is precisely what Kennedy seeks to bring to America at the point of a gun.

While the successful outcome of Senator Kennedy's operation depended on freedom, Kennedy has devoted his political career to legislating freedom out of existence. This is an irony that America's news media will evade, much less report.

Richard Parker is a practicing physician in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He holds and MD from Brown and MD from Yale University. He has published in the scientific literature and has written Op-eds for the Ayn Rand Institute and Capitalism Magazine.