Saturday, August 08, 2009

How Universal Health Care Threatens Freedom


Once when I had some spare time in London, I decided to visit the British museum. Making my way to the Greek and Roman rooms, I was impressed to find an exhibit displaying various medical instruments used by the Ancient Romans.
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The utensils fascinated me so I decided to read the caption underneath. It explained that although Roman doctors had developed a number of successful medical techniques, their practices could not even compare to the advances of British society under the nationalized health service.
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Suddenly, standing before that exhibit in the British museum, a vision flashed before my mind. It was a vision of the slow evolution of medical advance: first I saw the primitive societies in which there was no medical knowledge at all; this was then replaced by societies that began to develop rudimentary knowledge for treating certain sicknesses; then the classical period came along when medical knowledge developed still further; and finally, after the long dark ages and the gradual enlightenment that followed, I saw human society reaching the pinnacle of medical achievement with universal, nationalized health service.
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The vision passed and I thought nothing further of it until Obama’s victory speech on November 5, 2008. Standing before glowing crowds in Chicago, Obama told the story of American history, from its inception to its growth into civic maturity. The story climaxed with his own utopian announcement: “Our union can be perfected.”
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I suddenly remembered my vision at the British museum. In an epiphany moment, I realized that the climax of this civic evolution could not be reached without nationalized healthcare.
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I soon found I was not alone in thinking this. Given the utopian cloak with which nationalized health service is so often shrouded, it was enviable that healthcare should play a crucial part of Obama’s perfectionistic platform.
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The Utopian Temptation
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All utopian schemes come at a price, and that price usually involves a significant number of people surrendering a significant level of freedom. As the utopian and disutopian novels of the 20th century so poignantly reveal, societies that embrace utopian ideals can only function to the degree that all members of that society cohere. Once the greater good is allowed to be compromised by individual liberty, the entire project comes crashing down like a house of cards.
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Now universal health care is utopian to the degree that it rests on the assumption that government is our provider. It is utopian in the sense that it presupposes the vocation of the state to be the constant improvement of society. And, like all utopian ideals, it can only be realized in a society where members are willing to surrender a considerable portion of their liberty.
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At first glance, it may seem rather strange to suggest that universal health care threatens liberty. However, having spent ten years living in England, I have the advantage of being able to speak from experience.
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When there is a direct ratio between the physical health of a populace and the nation’s fiscal integrity (which there obviously is when government promises to pick up the tab on everyone’s medical expenses), the state begins to have an economic interest in policing our health. And because every aspect of our lives can, in a general and indirect sense, be connected to our health, universal healthcare quickly becomes a blueprint for government to micromanage the minutia of our personal lives. It speeds up the inevitable progression from utopian ideals to totalitarian policy, culminating in the type of Mussolinian totalitarianism where everything is inside the state and nothing outside.
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Those who are familiar with Britain’s “health and safety” cult will know exactly what I am talking about. Any behavior that might lead to disease or injury – from tree climbing to waterskiing to eating shellfish – becomes a matter not merely of private health, but of public “health and safety.” It is a concern because any health insurance system is naturally limited by its resources and must necessarily choose between competing demands. If the amount of competing demands can be reduced through preventative action, then it becomes a public duty to pursue such intervention. In short, there is no end to the interference that can be justified in the name of public health.


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