IBJOpinion

MARCUS: Whose fault is poor health?

Morton Marcus
September 19, 2009
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Morton Marcus

The Rev. Robert Rector is a prominent minister in our community. Recently, he asked me to meet him in a local dive. As I entered the dimly lit bar, I could not find the clergyman dressed in black. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted to the haze of cigarette smoke, I found Rev. Bob in the corner, partly obscured by the jukebox.

“Hi, Rev. Bob,” I said.

He said nothing.

“What gives?” I asked.

He did not reply.

“Why this place for a meeting?”

“Get a beer and sit down,” he growled.

I went to the bar and returned with my beer, as instructed. Clearly, the good pastor was not in the mood for banter.

“Do you see what is happening in this country?” he asked.

“What?” I replied, knowing that whatever answer I offered would be unwelcome if it were not in agreement with his observation.

“We,” he said with that strong, stern voice I had heard so often from the pulpit, “are about to destroy sympathy and charity by insisting on personal responsibility in health maintenance. We are setting the stage for denying health care to folks we define as ‘sinners-against-self.’”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought we achieved fairly universal agreement that everyone is entitled to health care. I haven’t heard anything about denying health care to anyone for any reason.”

“You fail to look deeply into the renewed Puritan morality being injected into health care,” Rev. Bob said. “The cult of insidious individualism is on the rise. Where once we believed people were victims of disease, we now insist that illness is a reflection of choices actively made. Instead of sickness being a passive state, our actions now are regarded as the determinants of our disorders.”

“You may be right,” I offered tentatively.

“I am right,” he asserted. “If you eat foods not on the ordained menu, your subsequent problems are your fault. If you smoke or drink, you are now beyond the new moral pale. Thus far, we still operate under the old philosophy of communal concern for the sick, but those days are limited.

“In days to come, we will punish those who become ill as a result of their choices. We may charge them more for health care (as we now charge smokers more for health insurance) or we may defer their treatment, ultimately denying them the benefits of traditional medical assistance.

“Soon, doctors turn from guidance to denunciation of those with ‘self-inflicted’ wounds. As our health care system becomes more and more one of fiscal entanglement (government or private), society demands that each person conform to the behavior dictated by contemporary medical thought. Let a study come forth that cucumbers are carcinogenic and eating pickles will make one a social pariah.

“Verily, the day approaches when environmental harm will be blamed on those who are damaged because they ‘chose’ to put themselves in the way of documented danger.”

“You are being extreme,” I said harshly.

“I think not,” he exclaimed. “Just when we finally accept the principle of universal health care, we are simultaneously setting the foundation for a new fundamentalism of ‘responsibility’ that will allow us to reject and deny millions of people whose actions are not approved by the entrenched health establishment.”

Sadly, I rose and left. Rev. Bob is right. It would be tragic if we again treat illness (physical and mental) as we have treated poverty and ignorance—as self-imposed conditions—when illness, poverty and ignorance often are the consequences of choices made by those with the means and the power to prevent and alleviate such suffering.•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  2. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............

  3. Good try, Mr. Irwin, but I think we all know the primary motivation for pursuing legal action against the BMV is the HUGE FEES you and your firm expect to receive from the same people you claim to be helping ~ taxpayers! Almost all class action lawsuits end up with the victim receiving a pittance and the lawyers receiving a windfall.

  4. Fix the home life. We're not paying for your child to color, learn letters, numbers and possible self control. YOU raise your children...figure it out! We did. Then they'll do fine in elementary school. Weed out the idiots in public schools, send them well behaved kids (no one expects perfection) and watch what happens! Oh, and pray. A mom.

  5. To clarify, the system Cincinnati building is just a streetcar line which is the cheapest option for rail when you consider light rail (Denver, Portland, and Seattle.) The system (streetcar) that Cincy is building is for a downtown, not a city wide thing. With that said, I think the bus plan make sense and something I shouted to the rooftops about. Most cities with low density and low finances will opt for BRT as it makes more financial and logistical sense. If that route grows and finances are in place, then converting the line to a light rail system is easy as you already have the protected lanes in place. I do think however that Indy should build a streetcar system to connect different areas of downtown. This is the same thing that Tucson, Cincy, Kenosha WI, Portland, and Seattle have done. This allows for easy connections to downtown POI, and allows for more dense growth. Connecting the stadiums to the zoo, convention center, future transit center, and the mall would be one streetcar line that makes sense.

ADVERTISEMENT