Human Exceptionalism

The Consequences of Single Payor Health Care: Age-Based Health Care Rationing

Good news: Will Saletan is blogging at “Human Nature: The Blog.” (This might not be new, but it is news to me.) I like Will’s work, even though I often disagree with his positions. But people interested in what we do here at SHS, might be interested in Saletan’s perspectives.

Case in point: Saletan calls for age-based health care rationing under Medicare and Medicaid. Referencing a story (that I should have covered) in the NYT about the increase of successful surgeries for people nearing 100, Saletan suggests that Medicare/Medicaid deny such expensive and medically appropriate treatments–even if they would utterly succeed in providing the desired benefit–based on age. From his post:

The objection to spending Medicare funds on all these procedures is obvious: The money would be better spent on younger patients…[But] Isn’t health, like wealth, an unequally distributed asset? Isn’t it, in fact, the ultimate asset? And if that’s the case, should we means-test people on Medicare not just for wealth, but for age?
Actually, means testing is the wrong term. Age isn’t really a means; it’s more like an end. So let’s call it an ends test. The theory is that just as some people have enough money, others have had enough time.

Whoa. Talk about obliterating human exceptionalism, dismantling the importance of the individual, and imposing the ultimate discrimination upon people based on invidious prejudice!
If patients aren’t treated as individuals but crassly as members of categories, it bodes ill for civil liberties. And this is particularly true in medicine. For as the German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote in 1806:

It is not up to [the doctor] whether…life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should in incorporate these perspectives into his trade…the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state.

That goes double for government health insurance bureaucrats!

This is a classic case of how liberalism–of which Will Saletan is a proud representative–is fast losing its commitment to universal human equality. It is also a warning about the dangers of nationalized health care.