Charlie Gard’s healthcare is not a debate for the public square. Medical situations should stay between patients and doctors.
By now almost everyone has heard the tragic story of Charlie Gard, a baby with mitochondrial depletion syndrome who lives in the UK. Because Charlie was born in the UK, which has universal healthcare, the state has the legal authority to decide what care he receives regardless of the parents’ ability to pay. Based on physician testimonies, the government decides if treatments have a chance of working and if they believe there is no hope, then the patient or his legal guardians will not be allowed to seek outside treatment even if they have the ability to independently pay.
This is an issue that affects me deeply, because I am a medical student, dedicating my life to helping patients. I am also a libertarian and a Mormon, and that means I believe in autonomy not only as a principle of medicine and government but also as a spiritual law. Autonomy, in the LDS faith, is essentially the purpose of life. We came to this Earth, we believe, because experiencing autonomy was the only way we could spiritually progress to get closer to God. To deny someone his autonomy is literally to restrict his spiritual progress, and deny him the full measure of his creation.
That is why Charlie’s situation is so awful. His parents have independently raised the money for treatment and they are being restricted by the government from exercising their autonomy, simply because they happened to be born in a socialist state. This is wrong. There is some debate as to how effective treatments would be for little Charlie Gard. Most doctors who have reviewed his case seem to think that it is almost hopeless. Others seem to think there is a slim to moderate chance of treatment success. But it doesn’t matter whether the treatments would work or not. Charlie’s parents have the right to spend their own money to try. And government does not have the right to choose what (if any) healthcare is sought by patients or their legal guardians.
The moral problem with socialism is that it deals in other people’s money. Margaret Thatcher famously said that the problem is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. But that is why socialism fails in practicality. It isn’t why socialism is immoral. Socialism enforced by a governmental body is immoral because the governmental body claims ownership of other people’s money and then redistributes it to a third party, which didn’t earn it.
People claim that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. But this is also untrue in principle. Without getting into the moral argument of whether it should be a right, the practical argument is that it cannot be a right. It must always be a privilege, as are all commodities, objects (like food, water, clothing, shelter), and services. This is because these things must be provided by someone, and if they were rights, then that service provider would be obligated to provide it to someone else regardless of compensation. This is slavery.
And even more than enslaving individuals, socialism simply fails to provide, as a guarantee, commodities to all. The reason is because people are unique, with unique needs. The only guarantee in socialism is that everyone will face a one-size-fits none situation.
Finally, the reason why healthcare can never be a right is because healthcare itself changes constantly. As new things are discovered, standards of care change, and so the “right” of a baby in 2017 is very different than the “right” of a baby in 2015 or 2010 or 1995. It is impossible for the government to keep up with the latest science, and doctors even disagree in the same moment about what care is best. Just ask those caring for Charlie Gard and consulting on his case. Just ask Justina Pelletier’s doctors (a medical kidnap case that happened right here in the not-as-socialist USA…more on that later). If experts cannot agree within the same moment what healthcare should be administered, let alone within a government budget cycle, then it cannot practically become a “right” to have healthcare paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Yet because people are scared of the idea of having to provide for themselves, and the risks that come with self-reliance, they vote for socialism. Power-hungry, smooth-talking snake oil salesmen get elected by promising the masses other people’s money. And Western society thinks it’s entitled to some guaranteed minimum standard of living, including “universal healthcare.” The instant a society allows socialism to creep in, even in the smallest degree, they begin handing over freedoms to other people.
Autonomy is lost because of a simple, natural law of economics. He who pays decides what is purchased. In our own quasi-capitalist system where we have allowed socialism to creep in but the healthcare industry is still relatively free, this economic law still holds true. Even in a perfect capitalist system, it would hold true–the patient, who pays directly, decides what care he receives. If his parents pay for his healthcare, then they decide what care he receives. If you have insurance, you have willingly decided to allow the insurance company to choose what care you receive. If you are forced to have insurance, then your right to choose has been removed from you (making us a quasi-socialist/capitalist system). In socialist universal healthcare, the government has the right to decide what care is administered because taxpayers decided to give them the right to their own money. They decided to elect officials that legalized the redistribution of wealth. The benefactor decides on the care, not the patient, in every system–even in a capitalist system. Yet in Charlie Gard’s case, his parents are the benefactors, and the socialist government still insists on deciding his care.
The reason is because socialism is built on the principle that the state not only has a right to take your money and decide what care you will receive, but that they have a duty to make choices for you because you can’t make decisions for yourself. Socialism is based on the principle that it is too risky to allow people to make decisions. That it is the government’s job not just to secure your liberties but to take them away from you because you can’t handle them. People who support socialism in all forms, even the forms we have in the US, believe that the government’s job is to take care of people. They take the idea of preserving security to the next level. DCF took Justina Pelletier, a teenage girl with mitochondrial disorder, from her parents because she was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital and the doctors there disagreed with her diagnosis and treatment plan. They believed that she was being medically abused, and so they used the government’s authority to remove children from their parents for safety reasons to force their treatment plan on her and her family. Justina was separated from her parents for more than a year. It was one of the most highly publicized stories of medical kidnapping in the US. And it happened because we allowed socialism to creep into our nation. The idea of government having the right to protect life is the reason why DCF exists–to remove children from families who might kill them. The legal basis for DCF’s existence is not socialism, it is preservation of life. But when that authority is abused, when the issue is who knows best instead of whether someone is in imminent danger of being killed, that is socialism.
The only way to preserve autonomy is to eliminate any requirement to let someone else choose your care. And that means that patients and doctors assume the risk of failure. It’s scary. But there is no reward without risk. You can have insurance if you want–you voluntarily give your right to choose care to someone else because you make the choice that decisions and payment are in good hands. You still assume the risk, hedging your bets that you’re paying into a pool and that you will eventually see a return on your investment. Or if you’d rather not assume the risk of insurance then you hedge your bets that you are going to be healthy enough to not have to pay beyond what you can afford. Either way, it is your choice. You have the right to make it.
Universal healthcare is wrong because it eliminates the opportunity to choose. Business interactions should stay between the service provider and the benefactor, and involve no one else. Situations like Charlie Gard’s and Justina Pelletier’s put these debates in the public square, but only because Western society has allowed socialism to creep into government, and in some cases transform it completely. In the UK, a sick baby might not live because the governemnt has the legal right to decide what care he receives, regardless of the parents’ ability to pay. UK citizens, apparently, are no longer born free, because their ancestors voted on a system that, they felt, removed all risk. We must take a stand for autonomy here in the US, even if it involves risk. Given our current debates on healthcare, we must stand soon, before liberty falls for all future generations.