The health of any society depends on its ability to deal gracefully with its Michael Moores. In the first three weeks of distribution, Moore’s latest movie, “Sicko,” an exposé of the American healthcare industry, has already become one of the top five grossing documentaries of all time. Moore, noted for his tongue-in-cheek approach to looking up people’s skirts, once again makes accusations – backed by an impressive array of facts and personal anecdotes – that leave audiences gasping. His explicit indictment of the greed and corruption that prevent desperate patients from receiving adequate and timely medical assistance unabashedly points the finger at prominent institutions and politicians who will do nearly anything for a buck.
Moore is a gadfly who delights in provoking a reaction – the kind that prompts good people of conscience to do some real digging about who they are and what they stand for. I left the movie feeling alarmed and ashamed – and not quite knowing where to focus my growing angst.
It’s easy, of course, to point fingers at them: the multi-trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry; the greedy HMOs whose deliberate, premeditated policy of claim denial enhances the bottom line for executives and shareholders; the extensive list of corrupt politicians who offer their support in exchange for hefty campaign contributions; the several U.S. presidents and their cohorts who created the current system, knowing it would cripple a significant segment of the population. But such thoughts ring hollow. In the final analysis, there is no them – there is only us. We are all in this together, and if we are unwilling to come up with a solution that takes care of the least of us, then surely we have turned our backs on everything decent our forefathers created.
I left the theater greatly disturbed by the country’s current ethical climate. How could the richest nation on the globe be delivering such poor medical services to much of its populace? Moor quotes a recent World Health Organization report as saying the United States ranks thirty-seventh in the world in healthcare, even while spending more of its gross domestic product on this sector than any other country worldwide. How can this be? I thought. Moore must be deliberately distorting data. But a little research confirms that something is indeed amiss with the U.S. healthcare industry.
In a recent (July 16th) press release, Deborah Burger RN, president of the 75,000-member NNOC/CNA (National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association), stated, “Patient care is significantly compromised when they have to fight not just their illness, but also their insurance company and possible family bankruptcy. The medical bankruptcy crisis symbolizes a healthcare system that puts insurance industry profit ahead of patient needs.” In previous statements, Burger affirmed that the excessive waiting times in American hospitals can be life-threateningly long: “There’s been a lot of clamor lately about delays in care in some other countries. But if you want to see some really unsightly waiting times, look at U.S. medical facilities. Her views are echoed by Troy Brennan, M.D., chief medical officer of Aetna, Inc., a major healthcare provider and Moore target. In a talk delivered at the company’s Investor Conference in March, 2007, he cited recent statistics from the Institution of Healthcare Improvement concluding that “people are waiting an average of about 70 days to try to see a provider. And in many circumstances people initially diagnosed with cancer are waiting over a month, which is intolerable.”
To me, the most profound indictments in Moore’s film were delivered by Tony Benn, a former member of Britain’s Parliament, who wryly stated: “If we have the money to kill (in war), we’ve got the money to help people.” He went on to comment that European politicians, for the most part, “are afraid of the people” and quickly respond when constituents get angry and demand some action, while in the United States “the people are afraid of those in power” – afraid of losing their jobs or being cut off from healthcare or other services if they don’t toe the institutional line.
Benn suggested that the U.S. populace is controlled “through fear and debt,” pointing out that this country has an overabundance of both. As the old Appalachian adage advises, a good number of Americans are being kept, metaphorically speaking, barefoot and pregnant. “An educated, healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern,” Benn noted. “And I think there’s an element in the thinking of some people: ‘We don’t want people to be healthy, educated, and confident because they would get out of control.’ The top one percent of the world’s population owns 80 percent of the world’s wealth. It’s incredible that people put up with it, but they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened. And therefore they think perhaps the safest thing to do is take orders and hope for the best.”
Suddenly, the source of my dismay became crystal clear. The very concept of America (or any political entity, for that matter) is an illusion. Countries are merely aggregates of people pretending to belong to the same geographical tribe. When we allow our true identities to be alloyed with any institution or belief system, we disengage from our soul essence and merge with the mob. In the process, we are disenfranchised.
Moore’s film makes us all the butt of a cruel joke: A rather wealthy man approaches an attractive woman at a cocktail party and offers her a million dollars for spending the night with him. Torn between disgust at the proposition and the prospect of being a million dollars richer for a few hours of misadventure, she eventually accepts. “How about three hundred dollars?” the man says. Outraged, she replies, “What do you think I am, a whore?” “We’ve already established that,” he counters. “Now we’re merely negotiating the price.”
And so it is with us all. In our lust for wealth, fame, power, or whatever other shiny trinket the illusion uses as bait, we have developed expedient ways of distorting if not suspending our inner values. Our badly bent healthcare system is a symptom of a more insidious malady that has already overtaken the average American: fear. Benn’s comments hit home: we have unwittingly abdicated our sovereign right to govern ourselves. As Albert Einstein warned, “In a healthy nation there is a kind of dramatic balance between the will of the people and the government, which prevents its degeneration into tyranny.” As a group, we Americans appear to have lost our will.
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s eloquent words at Gettysburg can be adapted to speak on behalf the countless men, women, and children who have already died because of the unspeakable greed and malfeasance of those who shamelessly profit from our current healthcare system: “… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
Thank you, Michael, for goading us to remember that we were once a caring, compassionate nation of proud, free, and empowered individuals. May we ultimately prove worthy of that memory.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.