In the ancient biblical story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) Cain, the murderer, asks God, who calls him to account, “Am I my brother’s guardian (or keeper)?” The Bible’s answer is apparently Yes — with Cain becoming a marked man, sentenced to exile, yet mysteriously protected, with the added warning that those who might take Cain’s life shall suffer “sevenfold vengeance.”
The founders of our republic, in their own way, faced this same complicated issue. How balance justice with mercy? How ensure their own as well as their fellow citizens’ safety and well-being? At least part of their answer was, at least to begin with, to proclaim their belief that “all men are created equal, and are endowed with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
But did they really mean it? It seems they really did, at least when it came to the last item, as almost immediately, after getting rid of British rule, they began pursuing happiness in the form of wealth, and in the case of native Americans, other person’s property.
As for the second item, liberty, Americans somehow took nearly 90 years and fighting a bloody Civil War before they got around to freeing their own slaves, and a century more before they began passing laws to try to ensure that this emancipation actually ensured equal educational, financial, and other opportunities. And as we saw in the course of the recent ugly demonstrations outside the nation’s capitol, there are still some who regret having given blacks or others other than themselves that liberty or freedom.
This has left us with the still unfinished task of securing people’s most basic right of all, the right to life, and with it the tricky matter of determining just how far we must go to make sure it is respected and cared for. Some, quite understandably, have focused their concerns on what they consider to be defenseless life, especially the unborn and the elderly. Others put much more emphasis on across-the-board availability of health care for all, believing, on the basis of the experience of other nations, that truly universal health care services will result in more effective protection of life at all stages.
However, even if this last point be granted, the problem remains as to how such comprehensive life-long health care might be best accomplished. Faced with such a challenge, it seems to me that at most we have four choices.
Plan A, which recently passed Congress, is that we all are required to have an adequate private insurance plan. But, even if it is deemed to be not unconstitutional, how this can be enforced (inspections, fines, or even plan D below?) is another problem.
Plan B -- which was rejected by the present administration – would be to end up with a government-run insurance plan or even a government-run health service with all the costs being paid through direct taxation. However, it is, in fact, what we already have in part now with Medicare and Medicaid, which are in big trouble because of under-funding, an aging population, and fraud due to lack of sufficient government supervision.
Plan C -- The price of repealing plan A or rejecting plan B – is to end up with what we’ve had (again, with the exception of Medicare and Medicaid). But this amounts to no plan at all, and what we are attempting to abandon now as unaffordable. In part, it is the result of what happens when the uninsured become dangerously ill, which in turn is largely the result of the lack of adequate health care for everyone to begin with.
Plan D would be simply to be to leave people untended or to die when they show up at a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office without enough cash or insurance. While some in our society might argue for the justice of this alternative, who among us, given the warning protecting even the murderer Cain’s life, would be ready to enforce it?
R W Kropf 3/27/10 Cain’s Curse.doc 10-03-27.html