Thursday, March 24, 2005

The GOP's selective compassion

Froma Harrop: 'The GOP's selective compassion'
Posted on Thursday, March 24 @ 09:45:08 EST
By Froma Harrop, The Day
I have a question for all those "culture of life" people praying in front of Terri Schiavo's hospital: Where were you last week when President Bush and the Republican Congress were pushing to cut Medicaid? Medicaid is the medical lifeline for the poor. And, by the way, it is picking up some of Schiavo's hospital bills.
Are you aware of your inconsistency? Or are you just pawns of the Republican Party?
You fixate over a woman who has hung in a vegetative state for 15 years, but stand mute as 45 million of your fellow Americans go without any health coverage. More than 18,000 adult Americans die every year for lack of health insurance, according to the Institute of Medicine in Washington.
Perhaps you'd like to hear the story of another woman, Annette Arrico. A divorced mother, Arrico ran a tiny beauty parlor in Rhode Island, serving mostly elderly ladies. After expenses, she took home only $150 a week and could not afford health insurance.
Some years ago, Arrico found a lump in her breast. She knew the lump meant trouble, but she tried to ignore it.
"I had all I could do to bring up our daughter," she said at the time.
Pushed by her daughter, Arrico finally saw a doctor, but by then it was too late to help her. She subsequently died.
There are thousands of Annette Arricos among us today. Lacking health insurance, they do not seek preventive care and avoid getting a diagnosis. That's why the mortality rate from cancer is up to two times higher for uninsured people than those with coverage, says a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has spent the past year plumping up his "pro-life" credentials with grand displays of hypocrisy. He made a big show of inserting himself into the Schiavo case -- basically denying a husband's rights as his wife's legal guardian. While doing that, Bush presided over the unspeakable act of throwing 105,000 poor children off the state's health-insurance program.
Where were the religious leaders then, and where were their followers?
"I see many religious groups stepping forward and saying it's wrong to take a feeding tube from Terri," says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "I don't hear anything about it being wrong not to vaccinate tens of thousands of children. The Congress still accepts the reality of uninsured children in America, which is beyond the moral pale."
But "pro-life" advocates have nonetheless rallied to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner, as they make political hay off the Schiavo tragedy.
That "leaders" of disability groups would add their praise is beyond comprehension. After all, Americans with disabilities get most of their funding from Medicaid. Frist, Delay and Sensenbrenner were directing the attack on the program. The disabled might ask why their alleged spokesman did not stop them.
Here is another question for the "pro-life" folks: Where were you two weeks ago, when the Senate voted to toughen the nation's bankruptcy laws? The bill made no distinction between debt run up in a casino and debt run up in a hospital. A recent Harvard study found that nearly half of the personal bankruptcies were caused by unexpected medical bills. Funny, but I don't recall any spiritual leaders rushing to protect families in a medical crisis from losing all in a bankruptcy.
Of course, the Schiavo case is ripe for political exploitation. The following memo was sent to Republican senators: "The pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue."
To the pliant members of the "pro-life" base: Follow your orders, and get excited over a poor woman who can neither think nor emote and for whom doctors can do nothing. Interfere with a husband's decision to end medical treatment for a wife who has floated between life and death for 15 years.
Then sit back as your political masters try to cut the programs that help the sick, the frail and the dying. Let credit card companies harass families overwhelmed by medical expenses.
You have every right to call yourselves "defenders of life." Just as long as no one else has to.
Froma Harrop writes for the Providence Journal-Bulletin.
(c) 2005 The Day Publishing Co.