A mass congregates on Downing Street. Upwards of 100 Brits have gathered for a protest. The unseasonably crisp air of midsummer London chills the skin and stops the activists’ collective voice from carrying beyond the gates to the Prime Minister’s residence. It is a certain reality, which the individuals who comprise the crowd ignore, as they chant “save Charlie Gard,” in vain and in the cold.
A mass congregates on Capitol Hill. Exactly 100 Americans have gathered for a vote. Inside the chambers of Congress, elected officials determine whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). In the past month, these officials have been accused of more than neglecting to fulfill their elected duties of writing and passing legislation—a criticism typical of U.S. senators. “Murder!” cry opponents and proponents of the ACA alike at the politicians who will decide the fate of President Obama’s signature act in the near future.
The motion is killed. A third Republican, John McCain, relieves himself of the Republican Party and, thus, "the Death Party."
The case of Charlie Gard—an 11-month-old infant suffering from a rare mitochondrial disease whom the British High Court ruled should be taken off life support and whose parents were denied the ability to transfer their son to an American hospital—has garnered international attention from notable figures, including President Trump and the Pope. Recently, Charlie Gard has been used by Republicans to admonish the future of government-controlled healthcare in America as murky waters.
Meanwhile, Democrats, who similarly bemoan Charlie Gard’s unfortunate situation, accuse the Republicans of crying crocodile tears, as they endeavor to effectively limit access to healthcare for millions of Americans. The quest for a healthcare moral high ground, which began when Trump was elected and ACA repeal first became possible, evidently has turned Capitol Hill into the Everglades.
With both sides labelling the other’s plans for healthcare as potentially deadly, differences in policy have transformed into differences in character. Now, with Democrats labelling the G.O.P. as "the Death Party," and Republicans waving the sad case of Charlie Gard in the face of their political counterparts, there is a new hurdle to healthcare reform: incivility.
Republicans and Democrats both need to realize that the other party does not pursue policy based on contempt, but rather because they genuinely believe that one approach is better than the other.
In the great healthcare debate, it is becoming ever more apparent that we can have affordability and quality, affordability and universality, or quality and universality, but not all three. As the rising premiums and increasing number of insurers dropping ACA plans have shown, universality will come with a necessary price. Similarly, as centuries of American medicine before 2012 have shown, affordability and quality mean that not everyone can be covered. Differences of opinion on which two characteristics to preference do not make someone a monster.
The ACA, as it currently stands, is an unsustainable concoction of elements of both public and private medicine. The Republicans know it, as evidenced by their desire to repeal. The Democrats know it, as evidenced by knee-jerk references to single-payer when asked about healthcare reform. As one industry expert put it—please forgive what we already established as problematic diction—the health insurance markets are in a “death spiral.”
With the motion for debate on the ACA having passed the Senate, both sides had to drop the claim to infallibility, and be willing to debate policy both ethically and practically. In a private system, people would have to go uninsured, and, yes, some of those people would die. In a single-payer system, resources would have to be allocated in a manner such that certain people, like Charlie Gard, would be denied access, and, yes, some of those people would die. However, realizing cold hard truths and preferring one system to another for perfectly defensible reasons does not make that person a monster. As we all learned a long time ago, at some point, everybody dies.
It is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. No matter the healthcare system, people will relinquish life unnecessarily. Congress is set with the difficult task of creating a system in which less people will die preventable deaths with ethical considerations accounted for.
Going forward, if Republicans and Democrats are truly passionate about coming to a healthcare solution, they must critically engage with each other, rather than simply silence the other side with condemnation at the onset. Some value individual liberty, others value equality of access—the burden lies on Congress to consider the merits of all positions, agonize over the details and eventually achieve compromise. The debate—which was voted for by the Senate earlier this week—was not able to take place this time, as each party refused to come to the table and instead demonized the other.
Just because one prescribes different policy, does not mean he/she lacks compassion. Even in the heat of contentious debate, all parties deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, for no one wishes death, rather it is a fact of life. Whether one believes that no individual should share the fate of Charlie Gard and the litany of cases like his or the fate of uninsured members of society who have expired, he/she should not be labelled a “murderer.”
It is still possible to shed human tears after all.
Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior.
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Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.