Monday, December 6, 2010

Giving a Death Sentence for Christmas

It takes some of the bloom out of this joyous season when I read about the Medicaid patients in Arizona who are going to die because that program will no longer pay for needed organ transplants. One man finally made it to the top of the waiting list for a donor liver only to learn that funding for the procedure was no longer available to him. His family scrambled frantically to raise the $200,000 that would have allowed him to have the operation. When they failed, he went back to the end of the list, and someone with private insurance received the organ.

This puts it into stark relief: while politicians posture and claim that they can miraculously cut taxes for everyone, including the very wealthy, while creating new jobs and getting the country on the right track, people are dying. Some people will simply shrug their shoulders and say that times are hard and we cannot do everything for everyone. Fair enough, up to a point—yes, times are hard and we cannot do everything. But the gauge of a society’s morality lies in how it treats its most vulnerable members, and the state of Arizona is consigning them to death. That is unconscionable.

I fear that with this precedent set other states with equally strapped budgets will follow suit. Many politicians were elected to office because they promised to balance budgets – federal, state and local – without raising taxes by “eliminating waste.” From where I sit I do not see a great deal of waste left to be eliminated, which means that the only option is to further trim programs and services for those in greatest need, services that have already been stretched perilously thin. If some people need to make sacrifices, we seem to be saying, let it be the poor rather than the rich. When times are hard, it can bring forth a society’s best or worst. I fear we are tipping towards the latter—we are allowing ourselves to become mean and cold-hearted.

I believe there are still people of conscience in both political parties. People who are capable of compromise and cooperation. People more dedicated to finding workable solutions than to standing on “principles.” People who will not turn their backs on the legitimate needs of our nation’s most vulnerable. I read about a small, brave group of Republican and Democratic legislators seeking to build a new centrist coalition with the motto “not left, not right, just forward.” Theirs is a lonely voice right now, and they are being dismissed (or attacked) by many of their colleagues. But they are the sort of leaders who give me hope.

Are we as a society ready to reject mean-spiritedness, extremism, and the dysfunctional rejection of any form of compromise and insist that our elected leaders work together in the greater interest of our society? Are we ready to stop demonizing taxation and accept appropriate increases if the only alternative is to further punish the poor for being poor? That would be the Christmas gift I would most like to find under the tree this year.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

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