Games of Life & Death


Today's NYT had an article about a strange, grim lottery taking place in Oregon.

Ninety-one thousand Oregon residents have put forth their names into this lottery in order to win health care. The state lottery has slots for only 7,000 Oregonians. Those aren't good odds.

Many people visit the area around Bend, Oregon, for recreation, for Bend is unusually-blessed with volcanoes and forests and wild rivers. What these vacationers don't realize is that almost 20% of the people living in the region do not have health care.

What does it mean to not have health care in modern America?

Not so long ago, Mr. Bush proclaimed, “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

What this misstatement ignores is the fact that once an emergency room saves your life, you still get the bill. Even a brief hospitalization can quickly accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars. For many people in the income brackets that tend to not have health care, such a bill is so far beyond their ability to ever pay that might as well be for a trillion dollars. A sickness then, even if one recovers, becomes a life-ending event.

What Mr. Bush's statement also misses is the fact that by waiting until the last minute to go to an emergency room, by waiting until the pain is unbearable, or the victim has lost consciousness, diseases that were easily treatable become untreatable. Diagnoses that could stave off later problems are not made. People die because they do not have health insurance, despite Mr. Bush's snide assurances.

Oregon's lottery is about more than just getting health care. It is literally a matter of life and death.

What kind of society decides the life and death of its citizens by chance?

Shirley Jackson answered this question in her famous story, "The Lottery." (Although everyone knows "The Lottery," I think Shirley Jackson's book We Have Always Lived in the Castle is even more worthwhile.)

In "The Lottery," a small-town meeting turns out to be a gathering for human sacrifice, the victim of which is selected by lot. There is never any reason stated for the murder in this town; it is simply tradition. And this is the real meaning for modern America: There is no rational reason for people in Oregon to have to wager for their lives. There is no rationale, no defensible argument one can make, for Americans not to have universal health care.

We Americans now are as superstitious as the Shirley Jackson's villagers. As long as we cling, through tradition and fear, to our dangerous and cruel practices, we are no better than savages cutting-out human hearts to appease a blood-thirsty god--in fact, we are worse, because we know there is no such god and yet still perform the sacrifice.

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