Are We There Yet?Featured, The Remedy — By Sarah Thebarge on October 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm
I recently drove from Los Angeles to Portland with my friend and her two small children. We sang silly songs, ate snacks and read a stack of children’s books. It was a fun adventure, until we were about 300 miles from home, and her son informed me that it was “taking too long.”
“Are we there yet?” became the predominant question of the last few hours of the trip. “Are we there yet? Are we almost home?”
This past week, when the Senate Finance Committee passed the fifth and final health care reform bill, I had the same sentiment. “Are we there yet? Are we almost home?” I just want this issue resolved so I can focus on other things. But even now, it seems we as a country are not much closer to reaching a consensus than we were when these debates first started. It’s still an ugly scene.
For months I’ve been reading newspapers, listening to radio commentaries, watching and re-watching clips of T.V. interviews, and I still can’t untangle the knot that is our health care debate. And this is the thing: it’s not just the issue of health care that’s messy; the debate itself is a disaster.
It’s hard for me to trace how President Obama’s platform, which promised innovation and change, went from a bang to a whimper in less than a year. Where did the concept of death panels come from? How did a health care discussion that began with Senators McCain and Obama sparring at lecterns during presidential debates dissolve into angry mobs packing live ammo to town hall meetings?
And even if I could wade through all the refuse that the debate has created over the past few months and find my way to the facts, I have the feeling I may not be any closer to a solution, because both sides of the debate share the same data, but manage to make completely different conclusions from these seemingly objective numbers and facts.
And now that the five proposals have reached the floors of the Senate and the House, it seems that we now have longer than ever to go before reaching a national consensus on health care reform. We are not anywhere near “there” yet.
But as my motivation dwindles, it seems the stakes are becoming higher and higher. The American Journal of Public Health published a Harvard study in September of 2009 that showed that uninsured Americans are dying at faster rates than those with insurance. In fact, an uninsured, middle-aged American is 40 percent more likely to die than his insured counterpart. Forty percent. 1
I think it’s easy for Christians to get frustrated with the broken society we live in, then step back and shrug, “Well, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” And with these words we pay our taxes and then disappear as we become citizens in abstentia, no longer engaged in our nation’s ongoing debates.
You may feel as I do, that you’d rather disengage than untangle this knotted mess. But if you stay involved for no other reason, let it be this: people are dying.
In medicine, there’s a triage system that involves four colors: green, yellow, red and black. First responders who show up at disaster sites have a booklet with tags of these four colors, and the first step they take is to decide who needs what how fast. Green means a patient has a minor injury, or no injury at all. Yellow means if he doesn’t get medical care in the next few hours, he could potentially have a life-threatening injury. Red is reserved for a patient who is dying and needs intervention stat. Black means the patient has already died.
I think as Christian citizens, it’s appropriate for us to triage which issues we’ll invest ourselves in. Who designed First Lady Obama’s dress? What medium is an NEA-funded artist using? Probably green tags.
The black tags are what we call “history,” events that have already come and gone. Will we declare independence from England? Will we have female Supreme Court justices? These issues are black tags (a.k.a. “toe tags”), because there’s nothing we can do to change them.
Most issues seem to fall in the yellow category. Budget items, interest rates, campaign finance reform, education – these things could potentially have a dramatic impact on society in the long run, but they can probably wait at least another day.
And then there’s the red zone. I think this is reserved for extremely severe circumstances, when people are literally, physically dying, or where there is a great moral travesty that the church must address. Where yellow meets red may be a difficult line to define. When did Nazism stop being about socialism and start being genocide? When did slavery stop being South vs. North and start being about wealthy men oppressing fellow humans?
At some point, the debate ceases to be about Right vs. Left and becomes a battle of Right vs. Wrong. And in these vital issues, the church is not only negligent, but an accomplice to injustice, if it remains silent. Once an issue becomes “red,” it isn’t solely political anymore; it is now a moral issue. The political system may become one avenue of intervention, but it is not, at its heart, a political problem.
You may argue that the health care crisis does not equal the Holocaust or slavery in numbers or intent, and you would be right. Those were sins of commission, carried out by malevolent men who willfully oppressed, tortured and killed fellow human beings. The health care crisis is more a sin of omission – I don’t think it’s a conspiracy by anyone to purposefully harm the uninsured. But regardless of intent, tens of thousands of Americans are dying, have died, and will die because they didn’t have health insurance. And it is in our power to affect change on their behalf.
Maybe as Christians our first priority should not be reaching a national consensus on reform, but a community consensus on when and where the health care crisis becomes not a political, but a moral, issue for us. As the questions and debates roll on, here’s what I want to know: are we there yet?