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What I Discovered about Medical Ethics while Sitting in a Boston Bar

A vexing aspect about “Medicare for all” and government run healthcare is the type of people who will make life and death decisions for you and me.

A medical ethicist I saw on TV once pontificated about making such decisions based on “limited social resources.”

Before state governments forced taverns and barrooms to close, I got the chance to talk with such an expert.

I was sitting in a Boston Bar nursing a beer when in walks a bunch of people with “Hello, my name is…” stickers on their lapels.

Turns out, they came in from a convention of medical ethicists from a fancy hotel down the street.

Here was my chance to ask these repositories of wisdom some questions. Spotting one of the newcomers sitting alone, I came over and tried to strike up a conversation.

“How about those Red Sox!”

“I beg your pardon…?” he scowled.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said, trying a new tack. “I’m a journalist working on a story about health care. Could I ask you a few questions?”

The guy seemed to brighten up a bit. “Sure. What would you like to know?”

I sat down beside him. “Well, first of all, what are ‘limited social resources?’”

Without blinking an eyelash, he responded, “Social resources are those resources owned by society as a whole, and therefore are limited by their nature as social resources.”

“You mean, like the air we breathe?” I asked.

“Well not exactly,” he answered, taking a slurp of his beer. “When we talk of social resources we refer more to the collective sum of mental and physical goods which can be directed towards our health care delivery system.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“Let me put it this way,” said the medical ethicist. “Let’s say the beer in my glass is the total of all social resources.”

We both stared into the glass. I was hoping he’d offer to buy a round.

He continued, “It wouldn’t be ethical to let me drink all the beer.”

I nodded agreement.

“Therefore, an effective national health care system would have to ration beer.

We’d set prices and limit the amount of beer (limited social resources) that people could consume.”

I looked up and down the crowded and noisy bar. “But” I said, “if you did that, then all of us would have less beer.”

“That’s right,” he said, apparently gratified by my insight.

“Who would set prices?”

The guy winked at me… “We would.”

“Who’s we?” I asked.

The guy shrugged, ignoring my question, and took another sip of beer.

“What happens when all the beer is consumed?” I asked.

“We’d have to drink wine,” said my learned companion.

“But why can’t we hook up another keg of beer instead?”

“Well, it might be possible. But first the proper forms and permits would have to be filled out for government approval to procure more beer. Since, the government is also the new bartender, the people would be protected from unscrupulous, price-gouging brewers.”

I didn’t like the sound of this. I motioned the busy bartender for refills.

My drinking companion continued, “The goal of the medical system should be to protect society as a whole.”

I remembered a controversial operation, many years ago, when two Siamese twins were separated, ensuring that at least one would survive. At the time, prominent medical ethicists were against it. “What about that Siamese twin, years ago, that was given a shot at life?”

“We can’t let the needs of a few control the limited social resources of the many,” he answered.

“You mean, you’d let both of the twins die?” I asked incredulously.

“No, we would simply let nature take its course. After all, death is a part of life.”

I persisted. “But shouldn’t we sometimes make special efforts to save a life?”

“Society’s needs outweigh those of individuals,” he said.

The scariest thing about this was that someday, this guy might be deciding whether I have a life-saving operation or not.

I decided to buy the next round to keep on his good side.

Editor’s note on Medical Ethics and “Limited Social Resources”

All medical ethics systems are not alike.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy.

It rests on the shoulders of metaphysics and epistemology.

Yet not all philosophies are the same.

Some view men or women as individuals with a specific natures and rights.

Other philosophies view facts as relative, including the rights of individuals.

Some philosophies view the collective or society as the dominant factor in human life, not the rights of individuals.

A government program (such as Medicare) bases its care decisions on the medical ethics they have adopted.

And most government programs that deal with medical issues, work on the collective mentality mentioned above, focusing on “limited social resources.”

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