Spencer Smears Doctor for Endorsing Liberty
by Ari Armstrong, April 27, 2007
Jim Spencer of The Denver Post begins his April 27 column, "The craziest letter to the editor that I've read in some time came from a physician who claimed that Coloradans have no right to health care. Seems the guy not only forgot his Hippocratic oath but also the law. If you're sick enough or badly injured, they have to treat you at the emergency room regardless of your ability to pay."
Here is the letter to which Spencer refers:
Health care is not a right, and it is not the proper role of government to provide health care for all citizens. Instead, this should be left to the free market. It is precisely the attempts of the governments of countries like Canada (or states like Tennessee) to attempt to mandate universal coverage which have led to the rationing and waiting lists for vital medical services. Similar problems are already starting to develop in the Massachusetts plan as well. Any plan of government-mandated "universal coverage" is nothing more than socialized medicine, and would be a disaster for Colorado.
There is something crazy going on here, but it's not what Spencer claims. What's crazy is that Spencer employs a snarky smear against a doctor of the highest skill, training, intellect, and integrity. I know Dr. Hsieh, and I would trust him with my life, without hesitation.
Spencer's opening lines are flawed in several ways. First, the Hippocratic Oath is not "his" (Dr. Hsieh's) oath. Doctors don't take the original oath today. Indeed, Spencer himself disapproves of part of the oath, because it forbids abortions, a practice that Spencer favors (see his April 22 column, "It's her choice on her health").
Second, there's nothing in the oath that suggests a political "right" to health care, meaning the ability to force somebody else, either the doctor or another party, to provide or fund the care. (Philosopher Leonard Peikoff offers a more detailed discussion of why health care is not a right.)
Third, in his letter Dr. Hsieh expresses fidelity to the valid aspects of the oath. The oath requires, "I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients... Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption..." Dr. Hsieh argues eloquently that government-controlled medicine "would be a disaster," thereby harming doctors and patients and corrupting medical practices.
Fourth, Spencer suggests that a "right" is defined by whatever current legislation mandates. Thus, according to Spencer's "reasoning," when legislation allowed slavery, people had a "right" to keep slaves. Obviously, Spencer is equivocating between a statutory "right" and a political right.
Fifth, Spencer fails to mention that the doctor in question is Dr. Hsieh. Thus, Spencer deprives his readers of the ability to easily look up Dr. Hsieh's letter and his other writings. Dr. Hsieh's most important comments about medical policy are contained in his piece, "Socialized Medicine in Colorado - An Open Letter to Colorado Physicians."
Spencer writes approvingly of a "single-payer" system:
...Rocky White, author of the simplest, most progressive and most controversial of the commission's proposals... involves a tax increase that fills a pool of money controlled and distributed by a public agency. The money would pay private doctors and pharmacies for the care of every resident of the state. White turned down an invitation to serve on the blue-ribbon commission so he could promote what he calls "socialized funding," not socialized medicine. ... White explained... "This establishes a single-payer system."
When the government pays all medical expenses, then medicine is socialized, euphemisms notwithstanding. While doctors and other providers of medical services might retain nominal ownership over their businesses, in fact they will be completely beholden to the politicians and bureaucrats who distribute the dollars.
Spencer does relate some interesting news. The "Service Employees International Union (SEIU)... submitted a plan called 'Better Health Care for Colorado'." And where did this plan come from? Spencer answers, "Marty Sellers, a health care consultant who helped craft the SEIU plan... helped Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney design a near-universal health care program when Romney was governor of Massachusetts."
Of course, Spencer neglects to mention Dr. Hsieh's discussion of the problems in Massachusetts. Dr. Hsieh mentions the issue briefly in his letter to the paper, offers several links in his longer piece, and briefly reviews a recent news article on the matter in a blog entry.
Nor does Spencer bother to mention the proposal of Brian T. Schwartz, Ph.D. Schwartz realizes that truly "progressive" reforms respect individual rights and protect our liberties. Schwartz's reforms would remove benefits mandates that drive up the costs of insurance premiums, phase out mandates for the self-employed that discourage some people from buying insurance, and dramatically reform Medicaid (to the extent that the program is subject to state-level changes).
There's nothing "progressive" about using the blunt force of politics to interfere in people's medical decisions. Thankfully, thoughtful people such as Doctors Hsieh, Schwartz, and Peikoff are standing up to the regressive ideas of people like Spencer.