Government Controlled Medicine: The Destruction of the Physician-Patient Relationship (Part 1)

by | Jan 1, 2000

Approximately 2500 years ago Hippocrates, a physician-philosopher and genius from Greek antiquity, put into motion one of man’s greatest and noblest achievements-Western Medicine. The inheritors of Hippocrates’ rational Art-the physicians of today-are routinely performing such heroic acts as heart and liver transplants, rapidly diagnosing and treating heart attacks and safely treating once lethal infections with […]

Approximately 2500 years ago Hippocrates, a physician-philosopher and genius from Greek antiquity, put into motion one of man’s greatest and noblest achievements-Western Medicine.

The inheritors of Hippocrates’ rational Art-the physicians of today-are routinely performing such heroic acts as heart and liver transplants, rapidly diagnosing and treating heart attacks and safely treating once lethal infections with an enormous armamentarium of antibiotics. Even the once impenetrable realm of the human brain is now the domain of the neurosurgeon who today removes brain tumors with his skilled mind and hands.

Yet, because of these and other enormous successes, today the concept of Western Medicine is under attack by the very generations who have reaped her greatest benefits, and who will therefore suffer the greatest losses from the inevitable consequences of this irrationalism.

No rational individual expects government decree to reverse the earth’s orbit to allow the sun to rise in the west, to reverse the laws of optics to allow the sky to turn green, to reverse the laws of gravity to allow a man to “fall” from the ground back up to the Empire State Building once he has jumped off-for government decree to reverse the law of cause and effect.

Yet in America’s high schools and universities, on America’s televisions, in government offices, in Congress and in the White House, the idea that government decree can somehow reverse the laws of causality, that government decree can change the fundamental causal nature of the physician-patient relationship is portrayed as fact.

The idea is that government, through the use of force, can fundamentally change the nature of the physician-patient relationship, can enslave physician and patient at the point of a gun and, by virtue of a gun, can produce a health care system that is somehow superior to the greatest health care system the world has ever seen.

The fact that the greatest, the best health care system in the world was not produced at the point of a gun, but in the context of individual freedom and liberty, this fact is evaded and ignored.

While dismissing the well known horrors of medicine in the former communist Soviet Union, the advocates of more state controls in medicine often portray socialized health care systems in the mixed economies of Europe as paradigms of virtue. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Great Britain, the concept of state-enforced “universal coverage” has been a reality since 1946, and it has been a miserable failure. The cardinal feature of British medicine, as with any state-controlled health care system, is the “waiting list.”

A prominent German newspaper this summer had a telling article titled “On the Waiting List Lurks Death” (1). The article describes the fate of a 38 year-old reporter and father of two who suffered from coronary artery disease and died while on the “waiting list” for seven months for a life saving coronary bypass operation.

A chairman of the medical staff at a famous British hospital has stated that overcrowding in British Hospitals has led to patient’s dying at home before they can be admitted to the hospital, of patient’s dying in the emergency department before receiving a hospital bed, of cancer patient’s waiting up to six weeks for treatment while their tumors spread (2).

British orthopedic surgeons have admitted that an elderly person requiring a hip replacement will probably die before getting to the top of the “waiting list.”

One major reason that the Labor Party won a majority in the British Parliament in 1997 was its promise to reduce the number of patients on the waiting list from over 1,000,000 down to 100,000 (3). To date this campaign promise is far from met.

In the nationalized health care system in Canada the government has shut down hospital wards that provided needed but expensive chemotherapy and radiology treatment for patients with cancer (4). Even if patients with cancer are willing to pay for these services, they are unable to obtain them. If they wish to live, they must seek health care in the United States where more freedom in medicine still exists.

Honest physicians in Sweden acknowledge the horrors of waiting lists under Sweden’s socialized health care system. “Every Swede can inform a visitor,” says Dr. Erik Brodin, a Swedish physician, “about the reality of waiting lists as part of Sweden’s social medicine” (5).

In the famous Swedish University city of Malmo, for example, the waiting time for plastic surgery is seven years, for gall bladder operations the wait is three years. Diabetics in Sweden sometimes go blind while waiting two years to get an appointment at Swedish eye clinics (6).

The health care system in Sweden is often used as a model of the alleged virtues of nationalized health care by the most zealous advocates of “health care reform” in the United States. For obvious reasons, the failures of the Swedish health care system are evaded.

Between 1986 and 1990 the average five year survival (medical standard for “cure”) for lung cancer in England was 6%; that of other European countries with less socialized health care systems was 10.5%; that of the United States which still has the freest health care system was 14.5%, more than double that of England. The same trend is evident for bowl and lung cancer and for breast cancer in women (7).

The correlation is clear: the freer (less government controls) the health care system, the higher the quality of care. Yet, these data are evaded and never reported by those who demand more regulation of the health care industry in America.

Waiting lines are the inescapable sign of price controls, in health care as well as in any other industry. A cardinal feature of any socialized health care system is that health care becomes a rationed commodity, and medical “waiting lists” are one of the earliest indications that the state’s regulation of health care is bankrupt, morally and financially. Medical services go to those willing to wait the longest or those with the most political pull. In a free market system, health care goes to those who value them the most, not to those with the most influence and political pull (8).

A major motive of those who cry out for “universal coverage” is not the quality and availability of health care. If the quality and availability of health care were their concern, then an honest look at reality would end their advocacy of a system that has proven to produce the exact opposite of what they claim to be advocating.

A fundamental motive of those who demand more government intervention in medicine is the re-distribution of wealth. It is an attempt to sacrifice the productive to the non-productive, the healthy to the non-healthy. The chronically ill, the hypochondriac, the unproductive worker take out far more than they put in. The young, the healthy, and the productive worker bear the brunt of taxes (9).

The inefficiency of government bureaucracy has been proven time and time again, and medicine is certainly no exception. Yet the cry for more government intervention in the health care industry continues.

In Europe, the effect of replacing freedom with a bureaucrat’s gun has been a diminishing supply of medicine, not only of quantity but also of quality (10). A state bureaucracy tends to grow and spread, not in the direction of more productivity but rather it shifts and consumes wealth to sustain its own non-productive existence.

When the judgment of bureaucrats make medical decisions, rather than the free and independent judgment of the individual patient and physician, the productive effort of the physician goes not to the patient, but to sustain the life of non-productive bureaucrats.

The moral basis of the physician-patient relationship is that value is traded for value, with the standard being the physician’s and patient’s best self-interest. Replacing the physician’s and patient’s self-interest with the use or threat of government force destroys the moral foundation of the physician-patient relationship and ultimately destroys medicine. The only one who derives any short term benefit from this situation is whoever is holding the gun.

References:

1) “On the Waiting List Lurks Death,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Schubert, September 1, 1999.
2) “The Health Hazards of Government-Controlled Medicine,” The Intellectual Activist, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., volume I, number 10, March 1, 1980.
3) “On the Waiting List Lurks Death,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Schubert, September 1, 1999.
4) “The Health Hazards of Government-Controlled Medicine,” The Intellectual Activist, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., volume I, number 8, February 1, 1980.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid.
7) “On the Waiting List Lurks Death,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Schubert, September 1, 1999.
8) “The Health Hazards of Government-Controlled Medicine,” The Intellectual Activist, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., volume I, number 8, February 1, 1980.
9) “The Health Hazards of Government-Controlled Medicine,” The Intellectual Activist, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., volume I, number 10, March 1, 1980.
10) “The Health Hazards of Government-Controlled Medicine,” The Intellectual Activist, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., volume I, number 8, February 1, 1980.

Richard Parker is a practicing emergency physician. He holds a BA from Brown and MD from Yale University, has published in the scientific/professional literature and has written Op-eds for the Ayn Rand Institute and Capitalism Magazine. He is owner and moderator of www.OActiveAtlas.com, a philosophical discussion forum.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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