Mar 152010

For the past several years, health care has dominated American politics. Many of us are exhausted, confused, disappointed, hopeful, or determined. Some of us are all of the above depending on the day. The debate rests right at a crossroads of ethics, macro-economics, survival, and personal finances. For portions of our population, religion is central to the debate and that is true for me, as well. I’ll be addressing the intersection of religion and health care as a series this week.

Although I hope the current health insurance Bill(s) before Congress doesn’t become law for various reasons, I have no serious opposition to instituting a National Health Service in the USA similar what is in SpainFrance or Australia. Nor do I have any strenuous objection to allowing more of a free-market in health care by reducing insurance down to catastrophic coverage only for all Americans. I can see the merits to any number of other ideas, such as what Safeway uses to cut costs by 40% by rewarding healthy behavior.  I’m open to these plans because they are all just methods of paying for health care and have little to do with health care itself. What I’m not open to is anything that interjects the government and politics in between the doctor-patient relationship.

The Epistates of Hellenion, in an off-hand way, related something profound she heard from a speaker at a graduation ceremony in the late 1980′s. The keynote speaker was one of the founders of Médecins Sans Frontières. He explained that while Zeus was about government, and his divine son Apollon addressed public health issues such as plagues, physicians belonged to Apollon’s mortal-born son Asclepios. The lessons to be learned from this are not only that doctors are mortal and only seem divine, but that government should be two steps removed from doctors. Governments should support public health, but the intimate relationship between Doctors and patients are beyond politics.

Other than minor areas such as licensing, doctors should be free to care for their patients without interference from the State. The Federal government shouldn’t outlaw abortion or prohibit funding of it (as in the Stupak-Pitts amendment), but also shouldn’t force doctors to recommend or perform abortions. I’m a supporter of doctor assisted suicide and disagree with the prosecution of those who help terminally ill persons to end their lives (even family members), but I don’t think doctors should ever be required to end a life. I’m all for birth control, but I don’t advocate laws requiring medical personnel to proscribe it. I’m as patriotic as the next person, but I refuse to label doctors who treat patients in “enemy” countries as traitors.

Regardless how you feel in respect to the health insurance Bills on the table in Congress or the current state of health care in this country, keeping government and doctors two steps removed from each other is a concept worth preserving.  Any changes we contemplate to our health care system or laws in the USA need to ensure this separation.  If that isn’t safe guarded, it won’t matter how we pay for it, our medical care will suffer.