Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chemical Reaction

Yes, indeed. There's more than a few of us out here who have earned our chemistry badges honestly. Frankly, I probably got a head start on most of you being the daughter of a nurse, dontcha know. I grew up in a household where mommy brought home the penicillin and administered the injection at the kitchen table. Hell yeah, it was odd, but it was the 50's, and we practiced 'duck & cover' excercises, too.

The issue of personal responsibility - brought up by BlueGal's commentary - is pertinent to any discussion of health issues and our cultural reliance on pharmaceuticals. But how is it possible to determine what role personal responsibility should play in our distribution of health care resources when so many of our fellow citizens are denied access to our health care system altogether?

In my job, I talk to people every week who are just hoping they can make it to age 65 when Medicare benefits will kick-in. They are unemployed, underemployed, working for employers who provide no health insurance - or prohibitively expensive health insurance - they can't afford an individual policy, and they count on luck to grant them a free pass for just a few more years.

They ignore warning signs of potentially serious medical problems because they know they can't afford the drugs, tests and treatments that might be prescribed for them. If they reach Medicare, these people enter our health care system already sick, and we are paying the price for their more expensive, late-stage medical care.

Our ethical and moral discussions have not kept pace with the advancements in medicine that allow some people (those with adequate health insurance) to evade responsibility for their own lifestyle choices and appear to suffer little or no consequences as a result.

I don't know the answer to the responsibility part of the equation. Is it ethical to deny care or penalize those with an addiction to tobacco? Maybe it is. A diabetic who continues to consume sweets and alcohol? Perhaps. But, what about someone with AIDS who is dying because they had unprotected sex? And those nutcase anti-abortion folks think it's just fine and dandy to force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because, to them, the sex act is a lifestyle choice.

Deep, deep, deep muddy waters, and I'm not sticking my toes in it.


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