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Ted Kennedy and the End of All Health Care

09/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Watching the traveling funeral cortege of Senator Edward Kennedy inevitably triggered memories of the funeral of John F. Kennedy-- the most tragic funeral of my time. The assassination broke America's heart. Its now iconic images mirrored our shared grief. If those images could speak they would remind us that we mourned both the man and also the tremendous optimism he inspired, an optimism wounded but never killed. John Kennedy encouraged us to believe that idealism, humane attitudes, and caring would prevail in our country. He helped America rediscover its soul and its purpose. Ted Kennedy turned his brother's inspiration into a living trust that year after year paid out generously to our benefit. When Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy stood with Barack Obama, that same hope, that same belief, that same trust were rekindled in millions of people around the world, as America once again reaffirmed its soul and its purpose.

Watching entrenched interests oppose the meaningful health care reform Kennedy sought, I've wondered who's now winning the battle for America's soul?

As the debate over insurance coverage proceeds, let's remember that there is an end to all health care--it ends with a funeral. Before that end comes for each one of us, does our health care system provide a few simple essentials as we move through life to death?

Let's ask: First, was no harm done to us? Was our suffering alleviated? Were we treated with dignity?

In today's health care system, caring and dignity are sometimes in short supply. Those who lack basic health services want in to our health system--which is a basic human right.

However, even if Bill Gates wrote a blank check so that every American could access the full spectrum of high tech health care, that's no guarantee of caring or dignity as the film Money-Driven Medicine, which Bill Moyers aired this week, reveals.

In the film, the medical infrastructure bore down on one family to force their daughter to undergo costly heroic treatments for childhood leukemia. These treatments destroyed her quality of life and were ultimately ineffective. Finally, near the end, her parents faced up to the sad inevitability of their daughter's passing, and wanted to spare her additional suffering, and allow her to die with dignity. But they did not have that right. Their doctors threatened to sue them if they opted not to put their child through yet another round of painful treatments. They had no choice but to watch the suffering of her final days.

Obviously, no one wants necessary treatment to be refused based on the profit motive.
But neither should we have treatments imposed upon us based on the profit (or legal) motives--and that occurs just as often. If there's little to no gain from invasive treatments, where is the imperative to use them no matter what?

Where you stand in the health care debate may depend on whether you are seen as a profit center-- or as a profit loss-- by the medical, insurance, and drug industries. Those deemed a profit loss demand and deserve more inclusion. They have suffered or seen loved ones suffer due to lack of appropriate care.

Those deemed a profit center don't exactly want "out," but they want to avoid high tech care, unless absolutely necessary. They aim to reduce the need for it by using approaches that keep people healthier longer. They want the right to choose and receive insurance coverage for health care that serves their needs. They've suffered or seen loved ones suffer from from treatment excesses, such as drug side effects, drug interactions, complications from surgery, vaccine injuries, unnecessary tests, hospital-based infections, and/or invasive procedures that were unsuccessful in prolonging life.

Being either a profit loss or a profit center is life-threatening. As Money-Driven Medicine reveals in a survey of health mortality outcomes by state, whether you are under-served or over-served, there is absolutely no difference in mortality. You can die just as readily through receiving treatment, as you can from being denied treatment. That should serve as acautionary to us all.

However we show up in business' ledger entry, either way, we're not being accorded human dignity. So in the health care debate, let's not lose sight of the end of health care. In the end, what matters are human caring, respect, and dignity.

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