Healthcare reform and the loss of liberty

“I’m not ready, I’m not ready to die. I’ve got things I’d still like to do.”

Barbara Wagner spoke with utter disbelief —a nameless, faceless, government bureaucrat had just determined her treatment options, not her physician.


Barbara was 64 years old when her lung cancer returned during the spring of 2008. Her doctor prescribed Tarceva, a new chemotherapy. However, the Oregon Health Plan sent Barbara a letter stating they would not pay to treat her. The government officials offered an alternative plan: They would pay foreither hospice or physician-assisted suicide.

Dr. Walter Shaffer, a spokesman for Oregon’s Division of Medical Assistance Programs, explained the realities of the government-run Oregon Health Plan:

“We can’t cover everything for everyone. Taxpayer dollars are limited for publicly funded programs. We try to come up with policies that provide the most good for the most people.”

In other words, the politically elite decided when the economic needs of the state trumped the medical needs of the individual citizen.

We have seen this before. We have seen individual liberty sacrificed for the financial good of the “community.”

During the late 1990s Susette Kelo purchased a neglected but endearing Victorian cottage. She toiled to transform the beleaguered little house into a home. With walls freshly painted and yard neatly groomed, Susette’s home provided a beautiful view of Long Island Sound. However, even before the last coat of paint had dried, the city of New London, Conn., quietly laid another plan.

Facing tough economic times, the city wanted to attract new industry, jobs and money. A redevelopment project promised results but land was needed — Susette’s land. On the day before Thanksgiving 2000, the city of New London condemned her newly restored home, forcing Susette to vacate by the following March.

For five years Susette fought New London to save her home. On June 23, 2005, five Supreme Court Justices shocked the nation with their ruling. Kelo v. New London declared the Fifth Amendment words “public use” really meant “public benefit.” Local governments, for the first time in American history, could seize a private citizen’s newly renovated home and give it to a private developer — purely for welfare of government. If transferring private property from one citizen to another increased tax revenue it was considered “public benefit.”


The stories of Barbara Wagner and Susette Kelo are one and the same. In both cases individual liberty was sacrificed for the financial interests of government, for the so-called “good of society.” Washington’s proposal to cut $400 billion from Medicare demonstrates this trend yet again — our senior citizens are sacrificed to let government gain control of healthcare.

Nothing less than individual liberty itself lies at the core of today’s healthcare debate. “We the people” become powerless in dependency. As both Barbara and Susette discovered, the politically elite will sacrifice the rights of individual citizens for the greater good of the whole — for the greater good of government. The present healthcare debate is not about patient care. It is about politics and power.

Yes, we desperately need to reform our broken healthcare system. In the emergency room where I work, one patient in four visits lacks a payer source.

This is clearly unacceptable.  But “We the people” must fight to keep the wellbeing of the individual patient — not the financial interests of government — at the center of American healthcare.

Gray is president of Physicians for Reform.