Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hey, I do have a life

I believe it's a provision of the FISA Act that bloggers have to post every day, but I've decided to become a lawbreaker and skip a day once in a while. I do have other stuff to do, including today when I have both a dentist and a doctor's appointment. I'm snatching this opportunity to sneak in a post between appointments.

Both are for pretty minor problems. I have a sensitive tooth, and right now I'm deafer than Beethoven due to a wax buildup, which I'm going to have blown out in an hour or so. Over the years I've had a couple of dental crowns and a bunch of fillings, and of course my doctors have also done various things to me large and small with effects ranging from keeping me alive, to nearly killing me, to minor cosmetic maintenance, to probably nothing at all.

We here in the US of A, and elsewhere in the earth's wealthosphere, consider it a basic right to get this kind of ongoing maintenance. A couple of friends of mine went on a medical mission to El Salvador not so very long ago. She's an M.D., he like me is a useless and generally inept social scientist. Well, it turns out the main thing the people wanted was to have their teeth pulled out. They had absolutely no hope of getting their cavities and cracks and abscesses fixed, so they just wanted the teeth pulled. Even healthy ones, in many cases, because they were just going to develop problems later. So Becky became an instant dentist and Johnny an instant dental assistant and they just went down the line yanking teeth. The people were most grateful.

I bring this up not to guilt trip anyone -- Well, actually, I guess that's wrong. I really do want to think about the basic ethical issue here. We have an assumption that U.S. national resources by right belong to United Statesians, and it is on that basis that we can construct a discourse of human rights that first of all defines basic needs in terms of what is readily affordable here -- "decent" housing, which is luxury housing by most people's standards; an acceptable diet, ibid; education, ibid; dignified employment, an astonishing idea to the people who scavenge dumps in the Philippines or sell their bodies in Calcutta; and health care, and here we aren't just talking what most people would consider a luxurious standard but something that most of the earth's people really have no access to at all, except perhaps sporadically.

Indeed, despite my passionate advocacy for universal health care, I have always considered it rather odd that many Americans want to elevate health care to the status of a basic right. There is a program here in Boston called Health Care for the Homeless that has been working with the Red Sox to collect socks to give to homeless people. We are supposedly providing universal health care here in Massachusetts, but we haven't gotten around to universal housing, universal nutrition, universal dignified employment, or universal higher education, and hardly anyone is even talking about those things.

Is the foremost need of those homeless people really doctors? I don't think so. And does it really make sense to get outraged when an insurance company doesn't want to pay a half a million dollars for a heart transplant, when all those people in El Salvador are lining up to have their teeth yanked out because they can't get a cavity filled? What should we progressive humanists really aspire to?

While we're on the subject of the big questions, after yet another substantial break, I've started posting again on the Dialogue blog. My interlocutor Missy has been out of action temporarily. I hope she'll be back soon, but meanwhile I'm pressing on.

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