Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Your Digital Rights

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a company that made buggy whips. Every day, the owners would pray that someday they would find a technology that would improve the buggy whip to the point where it cost them nearly nothing to produce, and then they could flood the market with cheap buggy whips and make a fortune. The people would have their cheap buggy whips, and the owners would be rich. What a win-win situation for all! One day their top buggy whip research scientist came from the buggy whip research lab shouting “Eureka!” He had invented the horseless carriage!

Each new horseless carriage was, of course, made with a buggy whip holder. To make it go, the driver simply inserted his buggy whip. Now the buggy whips could be made of cheap cardboard, since they didn't actually have to be used. At last the buggy whip company had their fondest desire!

They immediately set out on a huge marketing campaign to sell the horseless carriage with the new “improved” buggy whip. At first, people were reluctant to replace their buggies with horseless carriages, but after a while they discovered that the horseless carriages gave better rides. After all, the people didn't really care about the buggy or buggy whip, but wanted to get where they were going.

The first problem was that people discovered they could make their own buggy whips out of cardboard. That obviously had to be stopped, so the company started making it so that each buggy whip was a unique shape and only that shape would fit a particular horseless carriage. People started modifying horseless carriages so they would run with any buggy whip in response. Eventually, the buggy whip company did the only thing it could do. It lobbied the government to make laws to protect its buggy whip interests. Legislation like the DMBWA (Digital Millennium Buggy Whip Act) made it illegal to circumvent the buggy whip shape-unique features of your horseless carriage.

But people persisted. They started groups to trade buggy whips and techniques for cutting out buggy whip cardboard shapes. Eventually the BWIAA (Buggy Whip Industry Association of America) was forced to institute a series of lawsuits against individual buggy whip owners.

Of course, this story bears no resemblance to any real world events, but there is a lesson to be learned. A friend once said to me that any law that makes more than half of the American public into criminals has got to be wrong. Of course, in a world of moral relativism he would be absolutely right, but we don't live in that world. Yet, he has a point.

The problem is that we are in a world where the economy can't handle what it has produced. Like the buggy whip company, we got our wish, but didn't consider the consequences. I'm told that the inventor of the microchip worked for Fairchild. When he presented his idea to management, they asked him how someone could repair a circuit so tiny. He replied that you wouldn't repair it, you'd throw it out! They reject his idea, as they couldn't accept that someone would throw out an entire electronic circuit when one device failed. He left and went on to found Intel with his idea.

When the “digital age” came about, content publishers were keen to jump on because it would mean they could produce content that was almost free to distribute. Of course, that means everyone has the capability to (re)distribute that content, which was something they hadn't (but should have) anticipated When a CD was something that took huge machines and large capital investment in factories to produce you could see paying $15 for. When I can burn the same CD for under $0.10 (even after paying a “tax” to support the recording industry) I have to question whether they're being greedy by the 15,000% markup.

Of course, the artist deserves to be paid for his work (more on that later) but how much did the artist get for that $15 CD? I'm told 10-18% ($1.50 - $2.70). Let's be generous and call it $2.50. Now, if the CD costs $0.10 to produce and the artist is paid $2.50, then the cost is $2.60. Allow the record company a 40% markup and we have a $3.64 CD. About this time someone's probably shouting “distribution costs!”, but of course, that $0.10 blank CD had to be distributed as well, so I don't buy it. Note also that if CDs were so cheap there would be a lot more sold, so the price could be reduced further while still maintaining a decent profit.

And the situation is worse. We have the ultimate in cheap distribution – download it yourself! When Apple iTunes promised us $0.99 songs people danced in the streets. And yet, when we can listen to (or watch, or read) our entertainment anywhere on portable devices, we get hit with DRM (Digital Rights Management) that restricts us to one manufacturer or some subset of devices. Now you can pay extra to get DRM-free music, which is technically a step in the right direction, but better yet would be to charge less for it.

My point is simply this. If the recording industry charged what the product is worth (as in cost + reasonable markup) instead of what they can get for it, we'd all be better off. There are 2 ways to make more money on a product – charge more for it or sell more of it. If albums were $1 (and songs were $0.10) for instance, would there be a need to restrict copying? Music pirates wouldn't exist because they couldn't make a profit. People would much rather spend $0.10 for something from a manufacturer that was of known good quality, and that supported their favorite artists than turn to a pirated copy of unknown provenance.

But instead the industry continues to overcharge and then spend the money to prosecute their own customers. The same is true of e-books and in fact most forms of “intellectual property”. Ironically, in the information age, information is the medium of exchange, and yet it's not worth the paper it's printed on. Let's look at copyrights. Today's works will remain under copyright protection 70 years after the death of author. If a work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first.

What's the “common good” of this law? A patent, which might be on some life saving drug or invention to further the good of the human race, only runs for 17 to 20 years. Is entertainment so much more important than invention that we have to reward those who produce it six times as much? Does it take so much longer for the entertainment industry to “develop” the work and make a profit off of it? (Hint, the answer to both of these is “no”)

Yes, the artist deserves to be rewarded for his creative effort. But in the case of Disney film, for example, the artists are salaried employees, and were compensated as much as they're going to be while they actually worked. Even in the case of a band, what's wrong with paying them for actually performing? The brick layer doesn't get paid for 120 years for having laid bricks. The carpenter doesn't get paid for 120 years for having built a house. They stop getting paid when they stop performing their job, and they have to do it again to get paid again.

Instead we live in a society where we cater to the corporation over the individual, and more and more base our economy on what we can get away with rather than what's a fair profit for an honest day's work. We need to adjust to the paradigm, not try to shoehorn reality into our legal framework.

What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joe McClane Rocks!

Matt Warner at Fallible Blogma is running “Support a Catholic Speaker month". The idea is to get Catholic bloggers to each pick a Catholic speaker and blog about him or her as a way to help us all get to know about the various Catholic resources out there. Well, this blog isn't a “Catholic” blog per se, but it is my blog and I am Catholic which I guess makes me a Catholic blogger, so I decided to throw my hat in. The speaker I am supporting is Joe McClane.

Why did I pick Joe? One of the “rules” was to pick a speaker you weren't familiar with (another way for us all to get to know each other). While I had heard Joe once or twice before on his podcast The Catholic Hack, I was not really familiar with him at all. So I spent the last couple of days listening to The Catholic Hack, and also his other podcast Behold the Man. I also dropped him several emails, to which he promptly sent me very nice replies.

Joe is a very modest guy, which is a trait I'd like to have someday. His self-deprecating manner of speech is a little off-putting at first until one realizes it's not an affectation, he is a genuinely humble person. I find this awesome and mysterious, since I tend to agree with Benjamin Franklin

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly [sic] overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. - Ben Franklin

In fact, when I exchanged emails with him about this project he told me he doesn't really consider himself a Catholic speaker. His bio describes him simply as a “lay evangelist”. The very title of his podcast, “The Catholic Hack” exemplifies his humility. I asked him about this, and he replied:

When I felt the call to begin my audio outreach I wanted to convey a message of passion with out leading people to believe I was an "expert" in scripture or theology. I ultimately decided up on "Hack" because that how I see myself. I'm a real hack... not professionally trained no fancy degrees... just your average Catholic laymen who is passionate and wants to be "the donkey Jesus rides today". I want the listener to think... there is NO reason why they can not be as passionate as I am or as knowledgeable as I am. In the end... there's nothing special going on.

Joe, I have to tell ya, in the end...there's everything special going on. There may be no reason why everyone can't be as passionate and knowledgeable as you are, but they're not, and that's the special part. The “donkey” Joe mentions refers in part to Numbers 22:28 where God causes Balaam's donkey to speak to him. If God can make a donkey speak, He can make each of us speak His word also.

Joe's newest podcast series is “Behold the Man”. I asked him why he started another podcast. In his words:

This past year I was asked to adapt my Catholic Hack! show for a radio (both traditional and internet) show. As I pondered it further I decided that I didn't want to do that. The podcast is NOT a radio show, and vise versa, as the style, and feel are different from one another. So I set out to create a new show... one more like a radio show. The two verses I pondered on were John 19:5 "Behold the Man", and Rev. 19:20 "Behold I stand at the door and knock"! I love the BOLDNESS of the language and the images conveyed. We live in a world that WANTS desperately to know that tomorrow is going to be ok... they will win the lottery and "everything" is going just fine at that point. We refuse to embrace our suffering and consider it as nothing! This is completely opposite of the Gospel of Christ... like him we must embrace our cross. Our lord beaten and bruised was offered up for us and stands there knocking at the door of our hearts.... if we open it... he will come into us and give us supernatural food! His body and blood! That's powerful stuff!

I have so far only listened to one episode of “Behold the Man”, and I have to say it completely changed my understanding of Genesis in 30 minutes! I have always understood the story of Adam end Eve to be a story that conveyed religious truth but was not scientifically literal. But there were some things that always bothered me. For instance, God tells Adam that he will die is he eats of the fruit of the tree. Satan tells him he won't die, but will become like God, knowing the difference between good and evil.

Well, as we all know, Adam and Eve eat, and don't die, and do get the knowledge of good and evil. So what's up with that? God is lying and Satan, the father of lies, is telling the truth? Well, this one episode (#13) explained all that and more. This is bible study that even a neophyte like me can get into! Curious? Go ahead and listen.

One of the things that's evident about Joe is that Dr. Scott Hahn is his hero. Having seen Dr. Hahn on EWTN a few times I admit he's really smart and can really explain really complicated stuff, but why a hero? Joe explains:

You can hear more about this in episode 1 of TCH or episode 1 of Behold the Man but... Scott is my hero because he saved me from walking out on the one true Church! I was going to leave when the Holy Spirit lead me to the early Church Fathers and then a good friend lent me a tape set from Scott Hahn called "Calling all Bible Christians to be Catholic and vice versa"... it was amazing as for the first time I heard a Catholic response to the reformation. I then began to devour everything Scott Hahn... could never get enough. We give a lot of credit to folks who can save our physical lives but not enough credit for those who save our spiritual lives. That's why Scott is one of my heroes.

So there are two more podcasts I have to add to my list, The Catholic Hack and Behold the Man. If you have an iTunes you can find them at  TheCatholic Hack and Behold the Man. If not, you can visit the web sites The Catholic Hack and Behold the Man and listen to them on your computer or download them to your MP3 player. Either way I strongly encourage you to give them a try.

Friday, October 16, 2009

God Spelled

Seems like I've been thinking too much about health care lately, so let's get onto a different topic.

How many times have you heard “God spelled backward is dog?” This is true in an orthographic sense, but also in other ways (more on that blow). Dogs have been on my mind lately. They seem to be popping up all over. As a kid we had (at various times) gold fish, tropical fish, gerbils, a cat and a rabbit, but no dogs. I'm not sure why not, but I always had enough friends with dogs to satisfy any dog cravings I had.

Last week I had lunch with my friend Mike. Mike is an EMT and was telling me about a call he had gone on. A woman saw a dog in the road and, rather than hit the dog, swerved into an oncoming car and put a whole family in serious condition in the hospital. Mike said in frustration, “Car full of the damn dog!” Mike, I will note, is a dog owner and dog lover, but as much as he cares for dogs he cares for people more. And as much as I would hate to hit an animal, I have to agree that a carful of kids should take precedent.

Another friend of mine, Tina (aka Snup) has a basset named Jake who is ill (that's Jake at the top of this post, by the way). Tina, being poor and a student, has spent countless hours not only tending to Jake, but researching his ailment and how best to treat him. The latest news is that Jake needs surgery to take care of a mass in his ear (which is pictured at right) so she has started a blog for Jake and is selling homemade doggie treats to raise the money for Jake's surgery. Please help her out by going to

The third story is about the “Crush Act”. It seems there is a relatively recent law, ( prohibiting the sale of material “in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed”. First off, I would think that ti would be a no-brainer that selling material depicting illegal activities would itself be illegal, so I don't know why this is a special case, but it certainly sounds like a reasonable law.

It seems one Robert J. Stevens was convicted in 2005 for marketing three dog fighting videos. The amazing (and disturbing thing) is the following (

In July 2008, a United States Court of Appeals overturned Stevens’s conviction, ruling that the Crush Act was “an unconstitutional infringement on free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Due to this ruling, the Crush Act is no longer in effect. Internet trafficking in crush videos, which had slowed significantly since 1999, has reportedly surged—and in April of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review U.S. v. Stevens to determine the future of the Act.
“This is only the second time in history that the Supreme Court has taken on a case directly related to animal cruelty,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty Field Services. “It represents a difficult conflict between two traditionally ‘liberal’ values—freedom of expression and animal protection—so it is unclear how and if the court may be divided.”

Difficult conflict? I see no conflict. Aside from the fact that this is “commercial” speech, which is (and should be) under a stricter standard than “free” speech, these videos are evidence of a crime. Any supreme court justice who finds this decision "difficult" should be disbarred.

I'll throw in a bonus fourth, non-dog story. GE Healthcare has formed a biotech partnership to develop products based on human embryonic stem cells in hopes that their use will replace lab rats in drug development and toxic drug tests (

GE Healthcare, the medical research subsidiary of General Electric, has formed a partnership with a leading U.S. biotech company to develop products based on human embryonic stem cells that can be used to develop new drugs.

On June 30, GE Healthcare and Geron Corporation announced a multi-year alliance where Geron will provide GE scientists with an undisclosed amount of human embryonic stem cells.

The human cells will be used “to develop and commercialize cellular assay products derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for use in drug discovery, development and toxicity screening,” according to a news release.

GE Healthcare, which is based in Britain, hopes that human embryonic testing will spare lab rats from having potentially toxic drugs in or on the animals.

So let's save the poor lab rats by killing human beings to use in these experiments. You have to be seriously ignorant not to see the irony of GE's attempt at “more ethical” drug testing.

As usual, the church worked out the ethics of all these situations long ago. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us (

Respect for the integrity of creation
2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.194 Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.195
2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.196 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.197 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

In other words you should not love animals instead of people, or place them above the needs of people. On the other hand, one should love and protect them and give them the respect due them as God's creatures. Causing an animal to suffer needlessly is contrary to human dignity, not just the animal's dignity. Likewise ignoring human suffering for an animal is to reject human dignity. We should love our dogs, but not put diamonds on them while children starve.

One of the reasons why I love the Catholic Church is that Her positions are middle of the road. Rather than taking a biblical passage out of context and using that to support a position that is popular or convenient (or unpopular or inconvenient), the whole of sacred scripture is considered, as well as tradition, science, and other factors.

I'll leave you with this video that was posted by another friend, Barb.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Gets Measured...

Hope you're not all too sick of my health care rants. This time I want to talk about “root causes”. The insurance industry recently published a report that says the health care bill as it is now will increase the cost of insurance dramatically. To that I say “Duh!” Now there is partisan posturing on the report, with all sorts of cr*p flying around (sorry, too tired to think of a wittier and more polite way to put it). So, what does Mike think?

I think none of the proposed legislation addresses the root cause, the cost of health care. Furthermore, I don't know of any political group who wants to address or even discuss the issue. One side wants to keep the status quo and the other wants to throw more money into the (broken) system we have. I think they are both wrong.

50 years ago (well, perhaps 60) the doctor would come to your house and treat you, and you could afford it. Today, the level of care is much lower and it costs a huge pile of cash. What happened? Why is it the $800 TV of yesteryear costs under $100, and the $1,000,000 computer of that era costs less than $5, but the cost of a doctor visit with a cold has gone from $10 to $250? Well, you might say “that's technology, and a Dr. visit is people.” Aside from the fact that a lot of medicine is technology these days, let's do apples to apples. The average income in 1950 was about $25,000 ( Today that number is $45,000. So you would expect the cost of a person's time to about double.So why isn't a Dr. visit $20?

One thing that drives up cost is supply and demand. According to, in the United States in 1949 there were 127.7 physicians per 100,000 population and 260 physicians per 100,000 in 1996. So how come it's so hard to get an appointment and our doctors are so busy? I honestly don't know. I might guess it has to do with the number of specialists today as opposed to 1950. While it's true most of this growth has been in specialists, there has been a slow but steady growth in the number of primary care physicians per capita over the years.

My theory (and it is only that) is that it has to do with insurance. In 1950 most people didn't have insurance for doctor visits (and yet, they didn't all die horribly, as some people claim happens to the uninsured today). They had what was called “major medical” which would cover only, well, major medical expenses. So you had doctors getting paid cash at the time of service. Now many doctors' offices have full time staff whose job it is to deal with the insurance companies. They have to document and justify to the insurance companies everything they do to treat each patient. The insurance company expects or demands a discount over the “retail” rate, and takes several months to actually pay up.

So now, to pay his staff, the doctor has to charge $30 instead of $20, and in order to get $30 from the insurance company has to charge, say, $50 for a “standard” office visit. I'm making up numbers, of course, but you see where the trend is. But we're not done.

There's a saying, “what gets measured gets done” and it's true in many situations. I heard a story recently about Bel Labs (a place I miss dearly). AT&T, as you know, was at one time a legal monopoly. Typically, in such a situation the profit of such a company is regulated to protect the interests of the public, and things stagnate, because there are no incentives to improve or change the system. But the story of AT&T is a little different. They were allowed a reasonable profit, but they could also keep money made from reducing costs by improving the system.

Thus, the company poured money into Bell Labs' Research, which became not only the way AT&T made money, but one of the most innovative research groups of all time. Things like information theory, the laser, the transistor, fiber optics, and literally hundreds of other world-changing inventions came out of the Labs, until the government disbanded AT&T in 1983. My point is that companies will do whatever they can to make money, or to generate value for the stockholders, as an economist might say.

Well, the insurance industry is pretty well regulated. In this case, the government has set a cap on profits of 4% (I believe, gotta find a reference). So if you're allowed to make 4% over costs, how do you increase the amount of money you make? By increasing the cost, of course! I'm not saying insurance companies are evil. What I am saying is that there is no incentive for them to reduce the cost of healthcare and every incentive to watch it go up.

How can an insurance company increase its cost/profit without “wasting” money? By making more overhead for the physicians involved, by engaging in spurious legal actions, by increasing marketing costs, by encouraging regulation and legislation which, while it may not affect them directly, affects their overhead. The cost (plus 4%) gets passed along to the consumer. So now you have a doctor who has to pay an insurance company for a malpractice policy to protect himself from being sued by another insurance company. It doesn't matter if the suit is justified or frivolous, the insurance company makes its 4% on both ends.

I've read that something like 50% of what a doctor makes goes to insurance. I have no idea how much that was in 1950, but it couldn't have been much with a $10 office visit. So factoring in the cost of insurance our $50 visit might cost something like $90. But we're not done.

A significant cost is that of all the tests that are performed these days. A doctor can't just look in your nose throat and ears and tell you to take 2 aspirin. You have to have a strep test, and perhaps more. My wife recently had a glass shatter and a piece went into her hand. We went to the emergency room, where she got stitches, but first there were a whole series of X-rays taken. They said they wanted to be sure it didn't “nick the bone.” What would they do if it had? Nothing different, but they wanted to “be sure.” Of course, they couldn't take her word for it that she wasn't pregnant, so they had to draw blood and do a pregnancy test, just to “be sure.” Why? Well, insurance again. If they didn't do these tests, they wouldn't be covered if something went wrong and they were sued (by the insurance company). Another case of insurance driving up the cost. 4% anyone?

Anther significant cost is pharmaceuticals. For that visit she had to be on powerful antibiotics for 2 weeks. First off, why? The cut was clean, made by a glass just coming out of the dishwasher. She had immediately bandaged it, and they cleaned it and applied topical antibiotics and disinfectants at the hospital. Oh yeah, insurance again. Secondly, the antibiotic was expensive ($120, if I recall correctly). Why so expensive? The pharmaceutical industry of course.

Unlike insurance companies pharmaceutical companies can make big profits (28%, if I recall correctly, it was in a Yahoo! Finance report recently). Now, I understand that developing a new drug or medical product is a long process (because of government regulations, most of which are designed to protect the public) and so the company should be entitled to a reasonable return on such a long investment. However, under our intellectual property laws pharmaceutical companies are encouraged to continually replace products with new products, even if the new ones are similar to (or inferior to) the one they replace. This ensures that they are allowed to make maximum profit. Once again, not evil, but what gets measured gets done.

Of course with all those new products, we'd expect marketing costs to be high, and pharmaceutical marketing and distributing companies are way up there in profits as well (20% if I recall correctly). And of course, in addition to the overhead of FDA and DEA regulations and oversight, there's all the insurance the pharmaceutical companies have to keep to protect them from being sued by insurance companies.

Add it all up, and you can see where the cost of that doctor visit is a natural byproduct of forces, mostly having to do with the way the system is regulated by our current laws. Maybe you want to quibble with the numbers a little here or there, or maybe you think this is too simplistic. Maybe you're right, but that's what I think.

So what are some things we could do to fix these trends?

  • Make doctors, not insurance companies, the ones who can decide what tests and treatments are required.
  • Cap consumer insurance costs, not profit margins, and allow insurance companies to increase profits by reducing costs of services.
  • Provide disincentives for frivolous lawsuits.
  • Change intellectual property laws to allow pharmaceutical companies to make a more reasonable profit, and to discourage “drug turnover”.
  • Eliminate the practice of health care “discounts” to insurance companies.
  • Eliminate the practice of “bribes” to doctors for prescribing high profit drugs.
  • Eliminate the practice of “advertising” new high profit prescription drugs to consumers (and perhaps even to doctors).
  • Allow/encourage individuals to make their own heath care choices. There's no reason I should pay an insurance company to pay me for my regular checkup, for instance. I could as easily pay it myself and lower my insurance cost by that amount.

And then there's the big bugaboo of “pre-existing conditions”. Proponents of the health care bill say it's great injustice (which it is) and that the only way to solve it is to require everyone to have insurance. Insurance companies fear that if the government doesn't sufficiently “punish” people for not having insurance, they'll just wait until they're sick, sign up, and be a drain on the system.

Now, think of the absurdity of the situation. The premise is everybody want health care and they can't get it. But we have to punish people to force them to take it? You can't have it both ways. Fortunately, you can have it neither way. Why not require insurance companies to take people with preexisting conditions provided they were already insured recently (by any insurance company) or they are below a certain age (e.g. children). I think that covers the big fear (if I lose my job I can never get insured again) while eliminating the big scam (I'll wait until I am sick before buying insurance).

Why aren't any of these suggestions being considered to help solve the health care “crisis”? None of these increase the wealth of big business or big government, so there's no incentive. After all, “what gets measured gets done.”

Since I posted this someone pointed me to where many other people have posted ideas about solutions for health care. While I don't agree with some of them, there are some that seem to make sense to me but that I missed mentioning in my original post.

  • Crack down on Medicare/Medicaid fraud. I hadn't overlooked this, but considered it such an essential prerequisite for any other reform I felt it didn't need mentioning. Perhaps it does. I think it's criminal to implement any solution without first address this.
  • No special insurance for law makers. This would make increase incentives for law makers to solve the problem. Frankly, I think it's unconstitutional for Congress to enact a law that does not apply to itself. They should not be "above the law" as it applies to citizens of the United States.
  • Provide a tax credit/deduction for contributions to health care providers or health care insurers for the purpose of covering the poor/uninsured. If we can get a deduction for our own heath care, why not for others'?
  • Separate insurance from employment. My place of employment doesn't provide me with auto or home insurance, why health care insurance? Yes, I know it's in the interest of the company to see that I stay healthy to work, but isn't it also in their interest to see I have a place to stay so I can work, and to see that I have transportation to get to work? Where does there interest in my stop. Should they feed me, to ensure I get proper nutrition so I can work? And yes, I know I can refuse health care coverage from my employer, but the cost difference is astronomical, which brings me to... 
  • Provide same tax benefits to individuals the employers enjoy. I don't think it's fair to afford a business any rights or opportunities that are not available to individuals.
  • Allow insurance companies to compete across state lines. Note I'm not saying force them to, but allow them to.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why I can't support the health care bill part II

I've had some conversations about my award winning blog post Some of the reasons why I can't support the health care bill.

In particular, I've been asked (even by fellow Catholics) “As a Catholic how can you not support health care reform?” After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:
2288 Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.

Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.”
What they fail to realize is that I do support health care reform, just not the kind of health care reform being pushed on the American people right now. Why not? Because it will lead to the destruction of human life, and is therefore immoral legislation.

Why do I say it will lead to the destruction of human life? Because it will result in universal funding for abortion (proponents of the bill keep voting down any amendment that would put that in writing that it won't, which tells me that I can't believe them when they say it won't). Even if it did not directly fund direct abortion procedures in a clinic, it will fund abortifacient contraception (aka abortion), in-vitro fertilization (IVF, which involves killing the unborn), embryonic stem cell research (ESCR, which involves killing the unborn, and euthanasia (again, we have verbal claims that “end of life choice” does not mean euthanasia but they will not put that in writing).

“But we need to give health care to all, even if it means compromising on other issues” is the argument I am given. I don't buy it. Here are some reasons:
“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.” – USCCB, Political Responsibility: "The application of Gospel values to real situations is an essential work of the Christian community"
“Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” – Pope John Paul II, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (Christifideles Laici)
“When American political life becomes an experiment on people rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting. We are arguably moving closer to that day. Today, when the inviolable rights of the human person are proclaimed and the value of life publicly affirmed, the most basic human right, 'the right to life, is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death'” – USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics
“Good people frequently disagree on which problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem.” – USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics
I don't think it can be more clearly stated that as Catholics we cannot in good conscience compromise our defense of human life, even to promote social good. Hence I can't support the current health reform legislation.

So, what health care legislation would I support? As Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese in Missouri points out
“One might legitimately ask if giving a large, inefficient, but powerful bureaucracy like the federal government control of health care is a wise move. For one, this runs counter to the well-known principle of subsidiarity, so prominent in Catholic social teaching: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

'The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention.' (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1883,1885). One might consider this the principle of social dignity.

How much of a role the government should have is a matter of prudential judgment. However, there are ethical dimensions to this question. Certainly, it has a role to play, but that does not necessarily mean that it should be the sole provider of health care. The government can act to remove abuses, and to regulate the health care industry so that the markets efficiently serve all the people.

Government may also be needed to see that no one, especially the working poor and the most destitute and forgotten, falls through the cracks. But the essential element of the principle of subsidiarity is the protection of individual freedoms from unjust micromanagement and manipulation by the state.” – Rev. James V. Johnston, Skinning the 'Health Care Cat'
As usual, someone else puts it better than I could (then again, I can't compete with a bishop!). Proper health care reform should focus on correcting inequities and inefficiencies of the current system to ensure that it is fair and reasonable. It should not support and perpetuate an admittedly broken system. If all you're looking for is a way to pay for care for people who can't afford it, and you don't care how that is accomplished, we already have that. It's called charity. The funny thing about charity is that it's your responsibility, not your government's. Oh wait! I have to pay my own money for someone else's health care!? Yes. After all, that's what this bill does that you want me to support.

If you feel health care for the poor is a moral imperative (like I do), please write your legislators (as I have) and ask that sensible health care reform be proposed in place of the current bill.

If, however, you are in favor of the current health care bill, there is a way to do things without violating your conscience. Simply take the $3,000 or so a year that I've heard is the estimated health care budget per capita (more, since not every capita pays taxes), and give it to your local parish with a note asking that the money be used to care for the sick. I guarantee the money will be used more efficiently and justly than it would be under the proposed heath care legislation, and it won't go to support abortion, ESRC, IVF, etc.