The Debate: Public vs. Private Healthcare?

After the removal of life support in both assisted ventilation and sustenance for baby Alfie Evans, against the parents’ expressed wishes (and with the added suspicion that unnamed  death-provoking drugs might have been administered) the following death of the infant has sparked a huge debate over private versus public healthcare. In light of this much-publicised and tragic case of Alfie Evans and other similar cases that have hit the headlines in recent times, the British NHS is coming under fierce fire from both British and American Catholics, whilst others like Cardinal Nichols defend the NHS core system of healthcare for all citizens notwithstanding their financial situation, and accusing the Alfie Evans case to have been used for “political aims”!

Aaron Taylor, also on the CATHOLIC HERALD, reported last Thursday that “Despite the Alfie Evans disaster, Catholics can back the NHS”:

The NHS can make terrible mistakes. But its basic principle – healthcare provision based on need – is congruent with Church teaching

The story of Alfie Evans has focused the world’s attention on the UK’s National Health Service. The spectacle of NHS doctors dragging Alfie’s parents through the courts to prevent them transferring their son to another hospital should be a source of national shame.

But a group of American commentators* have drawn some very broad conclusions from the case: they have denounced not just the NHS’s actions in this instance, but the whole idea of state-run healthcare. [READ ON]

Those *American commentators referred to above (with links provided) have seen a long and costly battle, headed by EWTN, to try and keep a similar system known as “Obamacare” out of the U.S.A. This non-acceptance of a state-sponsored health system was owing, in principle, to its included “evils” under the name of “healthcare”. For instance, the Washington Times explains:

Obamacare violates liberty of conscience. It wrecks religious freedom by mandating that Christians and Catholics participate in — and fund — that which they consider to be dark evil: the destruction of innocent human life.

It also mandates that religious institutions and Christian business owners pay for health care plans containing coverage for expenses that violate their faith. Millions of Obamacare tax dollars will be funneled to organizations such as Planned Parenthood for implementation, an organization that has engaged in the racially motivated destruction of millions of human lives.

Obamacare forcibly eliminates a tenet of Catholic faith in America: the absolute refusal to participate in the destruction of innocent life. The law extinguishes this religious practice.

Edwin Benson, on a website called RETURN TO ORDER, has written a lengthy and fascinating analysis not only on the above-mentioned debate (public vs. private medicine) but how an all-ruling Public Health Service is in fact an intrinsic policy of Socialism where they call the shots. After a fascinating comparison to Sir Winston Churchill’s loss of the General Elections after WW2 in his introduction, Benson draws this surprising result into his argument in his post entitled, “Winston Churchill, Charlie Gard, and Alfie Evans”.   

However, under a socialized system—like in Great Britain—the government IS the insurance company. Therefore, an appeal to the courts becomes an act of futility. There is no written contract—the coverage is provided under the terms of a law that the courts will interpret. Since the court is actually a part of the government, the costs to the government will enter into the calculation. If the government judges find in favor of the government bureaucrats, there is no appeal. All the individual can do is accept the inevitable and prepare for the consequences—which in these cases can well be death.

That is the situation in which the parents of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans found themselves. Charlie Gard had mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Alfie Evans suffered from a “degenerative neurological condition.” Both cases are extremely rare and the medical establishment in Great Britain declined to treat them. The authorities judged that their cases were beyond any chance of stabilization and/or recovery. The only thing to do was to make them as comfortable as possible and await the inevitable.

Of course, in the bureaucratic world, there are always two sets of reasons for a decision. There is the given reason and then the real reason. In the case of both boys, the given reason was some variation of the “death with dignity” refrain. They were both going to die, the value of their lives was negligible, and the proper thing to do was to end their suffering with as little pain as possible.

The real reasons involve a high degree of speculation since they are shrouded in secrecy. In this case, the most likely reason is not hard to deduce. So-called “end of life care” is vastly less expensive than any attempt to cure the disease. Morphine is cheap. In these cases, the biggest argument against its use, the chance of addiction, is not a factor. The nurses administer enough of the drug to make the patient “comfortable” and then wait for the time that the drug-induced sleep becomes permanent. The hospital calls in counselors to assuage the pain of the loved ones and assure them that they are “doing the right thing.”

He draws the conclusion that:

“…socialism did what socialism does everywhere that it is tried. Unemployment rose. The innovative spirit declined. A strike in a key area could paralyze the economic life of the nation until the workers’ demands were met. The quality of healthcare stagnated. Once socialism had come to dominate the nation’s economic life, Conservative governments, including one led by Churchill from 1951 to 1955, were unwilling or unable to stop its course.”

I believe there is no easy answer to the question in the title of this post. A Public Health Service like Britain’s NHS undoubtedly does a lot of good in caring for everyone in need without demanding that they wave their cheque books in the doctors’ faces in admissions, and even before any treatment is forthcoming. But as we have clearly seen in the scandalous cases of infants Charlie Gard and Alphie Evans, and in other reports on medics being forced to assist at abortions or other evils (of which I know some personal appalling stories) their all-powerful autonomy to mete out care – or not! – as they deem appropriate, threatens the inherently Christian principle of protecting and nurturing life at all times.

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