Liberty, Death and a Profound Connection

April 2, 2012

I am wondering as I wade through the massive amount of articles and arguments and political posturing, how my colleagues around the world viewed last week’s discourse back and forth about the United States’ Health Care Reform.  Those of you who live in countries where universal health care is the standard and those of you who live in countries where there is a dearth of health care services, please comment.

All Americans are quite familiar with the quote, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  It was Patrick Henry addressing the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.  Apparently the phrase swung the balance in convincing the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution for the Virginia troops to join the Revolutionary War. Reportedly, those in attendance, upon hearing the speech, followed Henry’s cry of “give me liberty or give me death!”  Maybe March is the time for talk of liberty because it is spring, a time to be footloose and fancy free, we are unbound by the cold and snow and everything seems to be growing wild and unfettered.  As in March 1775, the word liberty has been prominent in the news this week, not in reference to a war but in reference to the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare.  An article in The New York Times,  “Appealing to a Justice’s Notion of Liberty” notes that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will most likely be the swing vote in the decision on whether the Affordable Care Act survives intact or not.  Arguments on both sides are compelling and of course those presenting the arguments are well versed in Justice Kennedy’s penchant for liberty. The following statements from the opposing sides both focus on individual freedoms:

Pro-Health Accountable Care Act:

“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Anti-Accountable Care Act:

Paul Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback.

“I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”


The choice it seems to me is between freedom from disease and freedom from having to purchase health insurance.  It’s a choice of health or money.  Maybe I am oversimplifying this but if it’s an argument about liberty I think that’s pretty much it. Even Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts saw the mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance not as a loss of liberty but as a “personal responsibility” which is, along with liberty, a very American ideal.


My question is, where are the children in all of this?  If kids were wearing the black justice gowns would they decide that they should have the liberty of good health or that the grown-ups should have the liberty to spend money on whatever they want.  There are some organizations that do speak for children, that have advocated for kids:  the Children’s Defense Fund, the Children’s Health Fund, the American Academy of Pediatrics.  (You can Google any of these groups and see their comments about the Affordable Care Act; I’ll give you some links below.)  So here is what the “profound connection” between health care and liberty, as referenced by Solicitor Donald B. Verilli, Jr, really means.

For too long, too many American children have gone without the treatments, medicines and checkups they need, whether it’s the boy with asthma who couldn’t get insurance and ends up in an intensive care unit, or the young girl with diabetes who misses checkups and needs weeks to get her sugars readjusted, or the kids who fall behind on their vaccines and screenings and suffer devastating illnesses that could have been prevented.


When I think about children I have met when I traveled to India or Nepal or the favelas of Rio or in the South Bronx or in a homeless shelter in Chicago, or tragically resting in their graves in Reno, Nevada, I wonder, what would they answer? I think they would answer that they just want to be free to go out and play, and run and jump and be silly and have fun.  And they just can’t do these things if they are sick.


Liberty or death? The question is irrelevant.  There is only a relevant answer and that is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and none of these is possible without health.

Justice Kennedy and all the other eight justices, take off your black gowns, go out and play with some kids and you’ll know how to vote.








2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Linda
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 22:30:53

    Hi Karel,

    I don’t know nearly enough about the proposed legislation, but what I have read rather baffles me – mainly because my Canadian experience is so different and it is hard to imagine life without universal health care.

    Take today for example. I had a medical test this morning at my doctor’s office. I had to wait 7 days for the test (actually, only 5 business days and had I been more available, I could have had the test last week). I arrived at a busy doctor’s office at 10 am, was seen by 10:15, had the test done by 10:40, and met with the doctor to review the results at 10:55. I was out by 11 am. The total bill I had to pay? Nothing. I am self-employed and don’t have private health insurance either. It’s all covered under Canada’s universal health care policy.

    One difference in the experience between Canada and US health care systems is not the philosophies of liberty, freedom from illness or personal responsibility, but the Canadian philosophy that underlies our health care system: health care is a right – for everyone. So, I suppose you could argue that all citizens in Canada pay into health insurance through taxes, and we each pay for the whole of Canadian society (the young, the healthy, the elderly, the sick, the chronically ill, the intermittently ill, the ones who are never sick a day in their lives, those who take good care of themselves and those who don’t), but I have to say, it is hard to put a price tag on the reassurance that comes when you have an health issue and you know that every effort will be made to help you recover from it, without having to worry about how you will pay for it.

    In doing a little research about the US legislative reforms, I came across this statistic:

    According to a study from Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Law School and Ohio University, 62% of all 2007 personal bankruptcies in the United States “were driven by medical incidents, with [75% having had] health insurance.”

    That’s pretty frightening. I think I’d rather just pay taxes for universal health care. And I’m sure it’s much more complicated than that for the US, given the history of health care, the size of the population, etc. as well as the philosophies that drive policy.

    Just my opinion.


  2. Kierra Chase Parlagreco
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 20:34:23

    Your story is amazing, Linda and I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to the bankruptcies. And no, I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

    I cannot see the argument against affordable health care. Sick citizens = sick country. No one should go bankrupt because of a bad car accident or a bad diagnosis. No one should lose their house because they got sick. It’s not good for them or their family but also how is that good for the country? Not only should children have access to health care so that they may be free to play (and study and learn and in some cases, work), but children should not be forced to watch their parents suffer and die because of a lack of health insurance. Children should not have to study by candlight because their sick parent had to choose between paying for medicine or paying the electric bill. It’s not just about an individual having the choice between money and health care. This is not a personal issue. This is an issue of what is good for our country. Healthy, productive people are good for our country. And the fact that the Republicans think it’s Un-American to insist you pay for health insurance, and then in the next breath they want to say who you can or can’t marry. There’s just no logic or consistency in their arguments.

    That’s how I feel about it, anyway!


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