Mises Wire

Under Socialized Medicine, The State Owns You

As Americans were spending time scrambling to give the IRS their annual protection fee, the court system in the United Kingdom, at the behest of National Health Service bureaucrats, abducted and murdered an 8-month-old baby. This brazen abduction was done in broad daylight with full press coverage and the UK government and courts claimed loudly this was humane and the right thing to do.

This might sound like a severe bout of hyperbole, but that is exactly what happened. On April 11, 2017, the courts in the UK ruled that Charlie Gard, against the wishes of his parents, must be immediately removed from life support and left to die. Unlike cases in the US where it is usually the family that is arguing for or against extending hope that their loved ones can be rescued, the only people arguing against continued efforts were government officials and some third party public onlookers. What makes the Charlie Gard case so disturbing is that this is a case where no family member made any argument to remove the child from life support. The government simply overruled them and took their child. As an 8 month old, Charlie was in no position to formulate a living will or even have discussions with relatives as to how he wished to be treated with a potentially fatal illness.

Charlie was born with a rare genetic condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome rrm2b. This genetic disorder comes with a host of issues ranging from muscle deterioration, seizures and, in Charlie’s case, left him blind and deaf. The life expectancy of this disease is between 3 months and 12 years from the onset of symptoms. There are no current proven treatments beyond clinical studies.

This certainly seems like a difficult disorder to live and deal with. However, this is up to the individual to decide how to handle the onset of a disorder, or in the case of an infant, the parents. In the case of mitochondrial depletion syndrome, the treatment is risky but could lead to the child being able to experience some life, interact with family and live a number of years. The NHS, predictably, denied treatment stating it is too risky. The £1.2 million cost of treatment ($1.5 million as of this writing) was certainly a factor in this decision, indicating that the know-how and necessary medication is not readily available.

In most cases of government run medical care, with such costs, the decision is final. Care is denied and you are sent on your way. In the case of wealthy individuals, medical tourism is always an option. Approximately 800,000 people every year fly to the United States and another 600,000 to Singapore to take advantage of cutting edge and high quality medical treatment that is not available anywhere else. But with the case of Charlie, the £1.2 million price tag would have been out of reach for a regular family. We would have had another footnote for Statists to prove how the poor get trampled under the foot of the rich and we would then go about our day.

Except a major feature of the free market, private charity, kicked in wonderfully. Within a month of denial and discovery of the treatment, Charlie’s parents managed to raise the entire amount to pay for the treatment and trip to the United States. In a normal world, this would have been the end of the story. Charlie would have gone to the United States, received his treatment and we would have discovered if his already dire situation could have been mitigated or treatment failed.

But the NHS decided, for whatever reason, to interfere with this process. When Charlie’s parents attempted to withdraw him for this treatment, Great Ormond Street, a children’s hospital in Greater London run by the NHS, rushed to the British High Court to block his parents from doing so. As government court systems are wont to do, they sided with themselves and denied the parents’ wishes for further private treatment and gave an official court order that Charlie is to be removed from life support and left to die. This was a no-lose situation for Charlie and his family. If the treatment fails, the end result is the same and the parents can at least have closure that they tried everything possible. If the treatment is a success, he can live enough years to be able to learn what his parents look like, interact with them and be able to experience some joy in life. One can wonder, cynically, if the court system ordered his death to avoid risking embarrassing the NHS should the treatment they denied actually work.

Unlike the usual defects of public medical care, where resources are politically allocated leading to critical shortages for perfectly preventable diseases, such as the case of Laura Hiller in Canada, all the while claiming that medical care in a free market would be provided on a cut-throat system that denies the poor care. Charlie’s case shatters this self-proclaimed image. Here we have elements of the free market working as expected but with the government actively, and openly, doing everything it can to interfere with it.

Proponents of expanding this system to the United States, such as Paul Krugman, insist that public medicine doesn’t have death panels. What we are now seeing in the UK, not only does the British Government have death panels, they display those death panels as a public court spectacle for all to see and are also in the business of child abduction and forced euthanasia to enforce the panel’s decisions. No private hospital could ever hope to do the same thing that Great Ormond Street and the British High Court just did.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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