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Howard Steven Friedman

Howard Steven Friedman

Posted: September 21, 2010 04:30 PM

A hot internet topic is a letter from a young, Caucasian doctor named Dr. Roger Starner Jones to President Obama. There are a considerable number of variations of this letter posted so I have posted below the version I am referring to:

During my last night's shift in the ER, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient with a shiny new gold tooth, multiple elaborate tattoos, a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and a new cellular telephone equipped with her favorite R&B tune for a ringtone. Glancing over the chart, one could not help noticing her payer status: Medicaid. She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and, somehow, still has money to buy beer.

And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman's health care? Our nation's health care crisis is not a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. It is a crisis of culture -- a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. A culture that thinks "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me".

Life is really not that hard. Most of us reap what we sow. Don't you agree?

When I read this letter, other versions of it and some of the posted comments, a few thoughts came to mind: (1) The internet is ripe for distortion and Dr. Jones is probably displeased with some of the vitriolic versions of his letter, (2) Personal responsibility is critical to any functioning society, whether we are talking about health, safety, education, democracy, energy usage or other public concerns, (3) Many Americans simply don't believe that basic health care is a human right in contrast to international declarations and the standards in other wealthy countries and (4) Current health-care reform discussions are laced with the same ugly racial and class overtones of the Reagan-era initiated Welfare Queen.

Welfare Queen mythology consists of massive exaggerations of welfare fraud that resonate with those in the anti-welfare movement. This mythology is rife with overt negative racial and class stereotypes where Welfare Queens are portrayed as lazy leeches on society, pilfering vast sums of money from "hard working people's taxes."

In any form of socialism (whether that be food subsidies, housing subsidies, Medicaid, etc.) there will be a few that take advantage of the system. Likewise, in any business there will be individuals who profit by undermining the system's principles. This is human nature, and to ignore so would be foolish.

In America, conservatives often argue against social systems by making claims of massive fraud or that socialism discourages personal responsibility, while liberals often defend social systems while ignoring the system's limitations and problems.

What do I think? I think that the Declaration of Human Rights made it clear that most countries agree on a set of human rights, including the right to basic health. I think that people have a right to live somewhere safe, a right to have enough food to eat, a right to a basic education, a right to basic health care, a right to speak freely and a right to influence their government, among other rights. I also think that in any large group, some people will take advantage of a social system, but that doesn't mean the system should be abolished. Rather, that means that quality checks and incentives need to be put in place to improve implementation and to ensure that the system is a support and not a disincentive.

I strongly encourage intelligent discussions of critical issues in American society in order to develop lasting, impactful solutions. If political discussions continue to be filled with the misdirection tactics of racial and class stereotyping rather than well-grounded facts, America will forfeit its dubious claim of being a vanguard of human rights and accelerate a downward spiral.

 
 
 

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