The sad plight of Charlie Gard has captured the hearts of millions of Americans and other around the world. Protestors have stood outside the hospital demanding that his parents be allowed to seek care for him in the United States. My heart breaks for these parents. Watching a child suffer and die is something I cannot imagine. As the father of four daughters and soon to be twelve grandchildren I don’t know how I would react in this situation.
But this is something that everyone clamoring for a single payer system should be watching and learning. To be honest, I happen to agree with the decision by British health authorities and ultimately British courts. There is little that can be done for this child and every solution mentioned is experimental and comes with no guarantees.
If this child had been born in the United States nothing would be left untried. Doctors and hospitals would be looking at every alternative therapy and suggesting them to the parents. The parents, because they love their child, would cling to the hope that something could be done to extend their child’s life and during that extension some cure would be discovered. As parents this is what we do. We never give up.
But unfortunately this is not about how much we love a child. This is about the hard cold facts of health care and the costs involved in such situations. The experimental treatments being suggested for Charlie could run into the millions. A team of doctors might be able to extend his life for a couple of months but in the end would ultimately fail in my opinion.
So what does this have to do with the current health debate in this country? Quite simply it forces us to focus on an example of where health and government officials start making decisions on health care without regard to what the family or patient desires. They have to make cost/benefit decisions and while they may seem cruel they are not meant to be. Here in this country we are not used to that type of decision and we have heard the term “death panels” bandied about during health legislation debates.
What we see in this country is feeling that we are immortal and all stops should be pulled out to save anyone suffering. I will use my own family as an example. A few years ago my mother fell and broke her hip right after her 91st birthday. She was in good health up till then and of sane mind. We will never know if the hip just gave out and she fell or if the fall broke the hip. She went into surgery and had a rod inserted but the doctor made if plain that she would probably never get out of the bed since the bone was to weak to support the rod. Two days later she suffered a heart attack from the stress of the surgery. My mother had a DNR on file and ultimately decided to go to hospice. Within 48 hours she had passed away. But there were some in my family that questioned her decision and urged her to stay in the hospital and try something. She declined and died on her terms. She had lived a long and fruitful life. Everyone got to say goodbye to her.
The problem is that if she and the family had not chosen to go to hospice she would have remained in the hospital and the doctors would have been obligated to do everything to keep her alive. There would have been very little quality of life and she would have been in pain. They might have kept her alive a little longer but that would have ended in a short time. The cost of her care would have risen exponentially with each day she remained in the hospital. This is dilemma that is faced in health care every day in this country.
If you read the studies about Medicare you find that about 15% of the patients covered on Medicare use up about 80% of the total spending. This is to be expected because the end of life measures are expensive and this is where the bulk of health care comes into play in an individual’s life.
Under a single payer system, which so many liberals keep demanding, those decisions will not be made by the patient or family but rather by officials tasked with monitoring the costs of healthcare. I have written before that taxes will have to rise and you will not be able to foist this off on high earners. Everyone will see a steep rise in their taxes and it will be felt the most by the middle class. They will see their effective tax rate almost double and you can bet many of them are not expecting that when they say they want a national health care system.
The problem in the United States is we think we are immortal and we will live forever. Europeans have a more realistic attitude and realize that death is part of life. They have accepted that certain medical procedures will not be available to them at some point in their life. Some of them have compensated for this by purchasing private health insurance as a supplement to the national system. When they are told a procedure is either not available or will require a lengthy delay they simply turn to the private insurer for their care.
We need to come up with a compromise in solving our healthcare debate but when you start supporting/demanding a single payer national system you need to also face the limitations of those systems and the increased tax burden that will fall on everyone.