Posted on November 29, 2002
Death-care system defeated, for now
The voters of Oregon may have saved thousands of lives on Election Day, although it's doubtful that many of them saw it that way at the time, when they rejected Measure 23 by a ratio of roughly four to one. The economic details of that plan -- which would have instituted a statewide "universal health care" system -- were themselves more than enough to energize the opposition, without even taking the more frightening indirect consequences into account.
The proposal would have covered every resident in the state of Oregon for all "medically necessary health services," however that is defined. Included would have been prescription drugs, dental and vision, and mental health services. This would supposedly have been paid for by a pair of progressive tax increases, so that it would be "free" for lower-income Oregonians, while the "super-rich" shouldered most of the burden. A new state payroll tax was to have been introduced, which would have been assessed against businesses at rates ranging from 3 percent to 11.5. In addition, the state income tax would have been raised across the board, so that the highest bracket would jump from 9 to 17 percent.
Typical of the way the Left makes budget projections, proponents of Measure 23 were using a static analysis, which fails (or refuses) to take into account behavioral responses to economic policies. Not only didn't they envision big businesses and affluent individuals fleeing the state, but they didn't even consider the inevitable abuse such a system would take from its beneficiaries. For starters, just think of the expenses that would be incurred by all the "medically necessary" drugs that would suddenly be in alarmingly high demand -- including prozac, ritalin, viagra, and allegedly medicinal marijuana (which Oregon voted to legalize in 1998).
Over time, the users of the system would consume more and more of its resources, while revenues fell, due to the flight of capital from the state. In order to keep the system afloat, costs would somehow have to be controlled. Happily for proponents of the measure, their state just happens to have a mechanism for doing that.
In 1997, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to allow assisted suicide. Measure 16, approved by the voters in 1994 but delayed for three years by a court injunction, gave physicians permission to prescribe lethal doses of barbiturates to patients who, in the doctors' judgment, have no more than six months to live. That's a highly subjective determination, of course, and one which cannot plausibly be challenged, once a patient is dead.
Supposedly, this "death with dignity" law was motivated by a respect for individual rights. Advocates point to the existence of such a thing as a "right to die" as the foundation of their efforts. If they really believed in a right to commit suicide, however, they would propose the prescription of lethal drugs to anybody who asks for them, because if it's a right, then we all must have it. But that's not the way it works. If a young, able-bodied person expresses a wish to kill himself, everybody understands that as a plea for help, and a desire to be encouraged to live. It's only when a person becomes burdensome to others that such a wish is interpreted as genuine, and "right to die" advocates inform him that -- wink, wink -- he now has permission to kill himself.
If assisted suicide were truly founded on individualism, then one would expect it to first take hold in a state like New Hampshire (state motto: Live Free or Die), or perhaps Montana. But why would it originate from a state so socialistic that universal health care is even a debatable issue there? Derek Humphry gives us a hint.
Humphry is the founder of the Hemlock Society, probably the largest and most influential pro-euthanasia group in the United States. In 1998, he co-authored a book entitled Freedom to Die: People, Politics and the Right-to-Die Movement, in which he and attorney Mary Clement admit, in a chapter called "The Unspoken Argument," that, "In the final analysis, economics, not the quest for broadened individual liberties or increased autonomy, will drive assisted suicide to the plateau of an acceptable practice."
They complain that the elderly are "putting a strain on the health care system that will only increase and cannot be sustained," and then propose assisted suicide as "one measure of cost containment." As if that didn't spell it out clearly enough, they ask, "Is there, in fact, a duty to die -- a responsibility within the family unit -- that should remain voluntary but expected nevertheless?" As you could guess from the simple fact that they'd dare ask the question in the first place, their answer is yes.
When "right to die" activists appear on television, they scoff at the "duty to die" slogan as if it were a mere scare tactic fabricated by the pro-life movement, instead of the inevitable end, and indeed the aim, of their own cause. If the Humphry book is to be believed, and the confluence of Measures 16 and 23 indicates that it is, those who are supposedly empowered by assisted suicide are instead to be pressured into sacrificing their own individual lives to the collective. For all the Marxists' twaddle about the free market dehumanizing people for the sake of the bottom line, it is their philosophy which coldly discards human beings as a method of cost containment.
Measure 23 would have provided "free" health care to all Oregon residents regardless of pre-existing conditions. This means that people with severe illnesses would be tempted to move into the state, only to learn later that part of the "care" they are given is a constant reminder that they are expected to kill themselves ... voluntarily, of course. Like a man-eating Venus flytrap, this system would lure its victims with the promise of sustenance, and then snap shut on them once they're inside.
Euthanasia advocates now gloat that physician-assisted suicide has seldom been utilized since it's been made legal, as if that were what they were hoping for in the first place. This result is hardly surprising, since society knows from experience that, as a rule, people who say they want to kill themselves really don't. Even among those who have gone through the process of having pills prescribed for them by "death doctors," remarkably few have actually taken them. As far as the founder of the Hemlock Society is concerned, sick, elderly Oregonians are committing a gross dereliction of duty.
That's nothing that an overbearing, collectivist state can't fix. Had Measure 23 been passed, the state would have a vested interest in "counseling" people about their duty to die. For a seriously ill person to live until his natural death would become stigmatized, as a selfish imposition on his fellow citizens, what with poison costing so much less than long-term life-sustaining treatment.
Those who make frivolous use of the health care system would naturally become complicit, since cutbacks in the services they want would be the obvious alternative. The entitlement mentality dictates that one's own massage therapy easily outweighs the hospice care of somebody who's probably going to die soon anyway -- or worse, someone who may continue to sap the system of resources for years to come.
The Oregon Death With Dignity Act, the actual law which was authorized by Measure 16, supposedly contains provisions to prevent abuse, like Sec. 4.02, which says, "A person who coerces or exerts undue influence on a patient to request medication for the purpose of ending the patient's life ... shall be guilty of a Class A felony." This doesn't really deal with the problem, though. To "coerce" means "to bring about by force or threat." Humphry and Clement imply that the method of persuasion would be guilt. Laying a daily guilt trip on somebody wouldn't literally be "coercion," nor would any Oregon judge be likely to consider it "undue influence," with the continuity of the state-controlled health care system at stake.
Thankfully, this nightmare has been averted, for the time being. But its proponents promise that it will be on the ballot again in 2004, and the possibility of a presidential run by Hillary Clinton could add a whole new dynamic to the election. While a condescending liberal elitist like Sen. Clinton wouldn't stand much of a chance nationwide, she could certainly win Oregon, and would have the potential to drag any socialist ballot initiative along to victory with her. That would be especially true of an initiative to socialize medicine, which would be seen as a referendum on Mrs. Clitnon herself, who tried in 1993 to do the same thing nationally.
Moreover, big businesses and health insurance companies wouldn't be able to run as effective a campaign against it as they did this year. The news media, after being cued by the former First Lady, would demonize them on a daily basis, to the point where any conspicuous activism on their part would only rally support for the initiative. In order to counter that, they must act preemptively, by continuing this year's campaign in the meantime, while there is no specific proposal being debated.
With the national support that will be lent to the next incarnation of Measure 23, it is important that the voters recognize the inherent dangers of a "free" health care system the second one is proposed. To see that this is the case, opponents must remain vigilant in educating the public about it on a regular basis. They can start by reminding the people of their "duty."
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