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Guest Opinion: A sick exceptionalism

As we debate revamping our health care system, the key question seems to be whether we consider health care access to be a basic right of citizenship, like going to a tuition-free public high school.

In this regard, by rejecting health care as a fundamental right, we have indeed demonstrated that we are the “exceptional” nation. Do we want to cling to that rather heartless distinction or transition to a system that puts health above profits, a system that doesn’t determine life or death based on wealth or whether you’re lucky enough to have “benefits” provided by your employer.

Many conservatives who reject the idea of health care as a right of citizenship get very passionate about the need to protect the lives of embryos — or “unborn children” as they refer to them. Wouldn’t it be more morally consistent and compassionate to see children and adults as more or at least equally deserving of the right to life as an embryo?

Perhaps the issue becomes more clear when we transcend political rhetoric and think of an individual’s life in a very personal way. Many years ago, I lost a best friend because of the inadequacies of our health care system. Next-door neighbors since we were 10, Marty G. was like a brother to me. By age 33, he was suffering from severe headaches.

As a carpenter and a writer with no wife or mortgage, like tens of millions of others, he had no health insurance. Therefore, when he arrived at a public hospital in California complaining of the headaches, they turned him away and told him to take more aspirin. Several weeks later, after he collapsed on a sidewalk, he became a “disabled” person and qualified for publicly funded medical assistance.

He underwent brain surgery, but his tumor had grown too large to be completely removed and he lived only a few more months. Had he lived in any other developed country, he would have been treated sooner and had a much greater chance of surviving.

The Trump-Ryan health care plan will hurl millions of Americans into the same vulnerable position as my friend Marty. Thousands of people will die each year because they won’t get adequate treatment soon enough. Meanwhile our “defense” expenditures will rise dramatically. We’ll have new jet bombers, missiles and an aircraft carrier, but half our citizens will live in fear that they might die prematurely and/or go bankrupt because of a disease and/or inadequate access to health care.

Truly, we are turning plowshares into swords. Is this the kind of “exceptional” nation we desire for ourselves and our children?

— Ron Hertz lives in Ashland.