The idea that every life is infinitely precious and therefore everyone deserves the same kind of optimal medical care is a fine religious sentiment and moral ideal. As political and economic policy, it is vainglorious delusion. Rich and educated people not only receive better goods and services in all areas of life than do poor and uneducated people, they also tend to take better care of themselves and their possessions, which in turn leads to better health. The first requirement for better health care for all is not equal health care for everyone but educational and economic advancement for everyone.
Our national conversation about curbing the cost of health care is crippled by the vocabulary in which we conduct it. We must stop talking about "health care" as if it were some kind of collective public service, like fire protection, provided equally to everyone who needs it. No government can provide the same high quality body repair services to everyone. Not all doctors are equally good physicians, and not all sick persons are equally good patients.
If we persevere in our quixotic quest for a fetishized medical equality we will sacrifice personal freedom as its price. We will become the voluntary slaves of a "compassionate" government that will provide the same low quality health care to everyone.
Henry David Thoreau famously remarked, "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life." Thoreau feared a single, unarmed man approaching him with such a passion in his heart. Too many people now embrace the coercive apparatus of the modern state professing the same design.
Dr. Szasz is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. He is author of "The Myth of Mental Illness," among other books (HarperCollins, 1961).
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