Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

17 August 2011

Socialized Medicine and a Doctor's Moral Obligation

A friend asked this question:
One of the arguments I have heard from proponents of socialized medicine is that it is immoral to stand by while someone dies, and therefore society is obligated to help when someone is facing a life threatening illness but can't afford the treatment. Although there is much to refute in this type of statement, I am wondering about the more difficult refutation. As a personal decision of each doctor, is it rational to make the decision to deny treatment based upon the fact of a patient's inability to pay?
The moral argument against socialized medicine, or ObamaCare in particular, is based on our equal, sovereign individual rights. It is not dependent upon whether a particular doctor decides that he must act to save a life independent of remuneration or not. It is an important moral principle that he is free to either be benevolent or not be benevolent. Now, I do believe benevolence is an important virtue, but benevolence is virtuous in the context that the person helped has value to the doctor.  Benevolence is not about self-sacrifice, since that would hardly be benevolent to oneself. 

If the person has an entitlement mentality, then the doctor generally has no rational reason to help that person without remuneration. It is perfectly moral for him to walk away. In the context of a society of largely productive and benevolent people, a doctor may be rationally inclined to provide help to those who cannot afford to pay for their care, especially if they have become ill or hurt through no great fault of their own. But, even that depends on context, such as the expense the doctor will have in helping him and whether his helping the unfortunate person means that he is not able to help someone else who can pay. He is not obliged to save the poor man, while letting the financially prepared man die! If he gives too much of his time to helping the poor, he may not be able to generate enough income to buy the medical equipment that will enable him to save many lives in the future or he may simply go out of business. The doctor must make difficult moral decisions based on a very complex context. Some may appear to make a greater effort in benevolent acts than others, but still may not be saving the most lives possible.

Rational men are going to balance these difficult decisions differently and we should be careful in our appraisals of their morality.  A doctor may be willing to give his services free in a given case, but he may be unable to convince a nurse and other assistants to give their time free.  Or the hospital may be unwilling to make an operating room available.  Now the proponent of socialized medicine will want to use force to make all of these needed experts and facilities available, but this is a violation of everyone's rights and cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.

My grandfather was a physician in the Great Depression. He was a surgeon who operated in the Mayo Clinic and all of the hospitals of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He did a very unusual number of operations on people who could not pay for them. But, people were different back then. A farmer might not have any money, but he would give Harry Christianson a chicken, which to the farmer was his fortune. Then very likely for 20 years after, when he could, he would stop by grandpa's home and leave a bag of potatoes or a bushel of corn. This was very welcome when rationing was going on in WWII for instance. Harry and his wife Bess always had free food and there was so much that Bess and her daughter Betty organized ways to get it into the hands of those in need in the city. One man decided he would paint grandpa's house in payment for an operation, but while he was painting the upper part of the exterior, union thugs knocked him off the ladder and shattered his leg. The man was not a union painter. He was just a farmer who wanted to pay a debt he believed he had. Harry and Bess put him up in one of their rooms until he was healed. The union later burned down their home because they did this.

So this is another important issue of context. There is value in helping people who put value on the help they receive. There is value in helping people who fundamentally believe that one should trade values for value.

There is little value in helping the ungrateful, however. Any deserving person, any person whose welfare one has reason to care about, will recognize the value they have received and will not presume that they have the rights of a master, while the doctor who worked so hard to develop his healing skills and knowledge is treated as his slave.  A doctor or any other service provider has the right to choose his own values and to pursue his own happiness in terms of his values.

The need of a poor person does not deprive him of this equal individual right to pursue his happiness.  Every man, whether poor or rich, whether a professional or a low-skilled worker, has this magnificent right to pursue his happiness.  No one has the right to dictate the values or the moral code which will define what his happiness will be.  All that can be required of another is that they are not allowed to initiate the use of force as a means to pursue their happiness.

This is very adequate for each of us when we exercise our freedoms and act within the private sector of our society.  In the private sector we have a wealth of potential opportunities to cooperate with others whose values are sufficiently similar to ours or in some way complementary so that each of us can pursue our goals defined by our individually chosen values.  When our values are not approved of by others, they are free to choose not to associate with us.  This is the realm of the voluntary and is relished by those who want rich choices and who abhor being forced to bend to the will of others.

In contrast to this natural realm of freedom, we have the realm of the government.  The principal property of government is its monopoly on the use of force in a society.  Because a wise society seeks to minimize the use of force and seeks to maximize individual freedom of choice and association with others, such a society has a minimal government.  Such a limited and legitimate government uses force only for the purpose of protecting the equal, sovereign rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

When government attempts to do more, it must necessarily do violence to the rights of the individual as it imposes values and moral codes upon the People.  With this loss of freedom to choose one's values, one loses many of the freedoms to use one's own mind.  One loses the choice of one's own goals.  With the loss of one's own goals, one loses all hope.  It is no accident that unfree societies become depressed societies with large increases in drug use, excessive alcohol use, and increased numbers of suicides.  Big governments do much harm to individuals and are notable in the brutally of their violence against their people should any insist on exercising their sovereign rights.  We see the party of biggest government verging close to a desire to let loose the hounds of hell upon the Tea Party people for just this reason.  Over and over they have tried to label the Tea Party people who simply want to preserve some of their individual rights as terrorists and subversives.  This makes the brutal nature of unlimited government all the more clear in our time.


Claudia Roazen said...

Forcing charity destroys its very existence as both an act of largess and a feeling of self fulfillment. If everyone is forced to sacrifice for others then there is no need to thank anyone. Not only does charity quickly descend into an entitlement that demands greater indulgence but resentment builds over the inequity between the givers and takers. Those with more skills forced to cede for others resent those providing less charity because of lesser skills, as equally those receiving less help as takers resent those receiving more help.
The charitable sentiment becomes desensitized as the individual ego covets as much uniqueness that sets them apart and distinguishes them from peers. Holding back ambition to do more than what is forced because one is not credited becomes the new way to assert individuality.
It is a fallacy that government can control human choice. They can only re-direct true human choice by trying to control it. You rightfully understand that by forcing benevolence (charity) you only force the individual to see charity as entitlement and therefore an intrusion into their own self-affirming identity as a unique honorable individual.
If in a society all morality is dictated then one’s identity and value as a loving charitable person descends from special to unexceptional to then exceptionally selfish as the human individual ego will never be denied its desire to be different.
All socialism does is turn the ladder of ambition and charity upside down until the society strives to compete for sloth and selfishness.
Good Post Charles

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking comment Claudia. "Forced charity" belittles both the giver and the receiver. As you noted, it deprives the receivers of their honor and their self-respect. It is an attempt, which will achieve its end with many, to deprive the giver of his honor and of his self-respect also. It robs both of all of the positive aspects of love or respect shown for one another.

When a rational person voluntarily chooses to help someone else, the helped person is being told he is worthy of being helped. The helped person responds to this with gratitude for the help and for the recognition of being worthy. Government forced charity eliminates the recognition of being worthy of help and kills the gratitude reward for the giver and the receiver.

Sometimes in our personal relationships with others, we find that someone wants to help us or give us a gift we do not need. Some people respond by rejecting the attempted help or the gift. But, often it is better to accept the help or the gift because we understand that either is meant as an expression of love, appreciation, or respect. We should understand that people have a desire or need to help or recognize those they value. Being a gracious receiver of such recognition is really a good thing. Taken into the context of government with its nature as an enforcer however, all of this human interaction is lost, despite the socialists attempt to smuggle these feelings into the political context.