Archive for September, 2009

How Much Is A Human Life Worth?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Health care reform should include tort reform, because this would decrease the cost of malpractice insurance and legal fees.  A reasonable cap needs to be placed upon punitive damages, even in the cases of severe injury or death.  Since every human life is priceless, it’s difficult to place a monetary value on human life.  However, when presented with this ugly task, here are some suggestions from the Bible: 

Leviticus 27:1-8 lists various amounts for “dedicating persons to the Lord.”  The highest amount listed is fifty shekels of silver, or about 1.25 pounds, for “a male between the ages of twenty and sixty.”  With the price of silver of about $14 per ounce, this would be about $280 today.  Obviously, this is far too low for today’s standards, so let’s keep looking. 

Matthew 20:9 states that a day’s wages was a denarius, which was a silver coin weighing about 0.16 ounces.  At today’s price of silver, this was about $2 for a day’s wages.  So, the $280 from Leviticus 27 would equate to several months worth of wages, or maybe about one years’ wages.  In today’s world, this might be whatever the injured party’s annual salary is, or we might select an average number around $30,000 to $50,000, or maybe even a more generous of $100,000.  However, this still seems too low to us for the value of a human life. 

In Genesis 29:18, Laban worked for seven years for Jacob, in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage.  So, maybe we could conclude that a life is worth seven years of wages.  Using the above numbers, we could argue that this might place the value of a human life between $200,000 and $700,000, or a more generous amount of about $1,000,000. 

Since a human life is priceless, it’s certainly worth more than one million dollars.  However, this might be a reasonable cap for punitive damages in determining what a human life is worth in our legal system.  The average person could easily live on the interest on this amount, which, at 5%, would be $50,000 per year.  It’s a difficult decision that nobody wants to make, but it’s necessary.  If certain lawyers want to sue for millions of dollars (of which they keep 40%), we should ask them why they’re not out there bringing lawsuits against the doctors who intentionally perform abortions and take the lives of unborn babies.

Is Our Health Care System Really That Good?

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I’m amused by some of the opinion surveys concerning the debate over health care reform, when they ask, “Are you satisfied with your health care?”  Of course not, but that has very little to do with the current health care legislation.  Perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “Are you satisfied with your health care insurance?”  No, but I suppose that I’m glad that it doesn’t cost any more than it does. 

One of the arguments against health care reform is that, “We have the best health care system in the world.”  Well, even if this is true, we still have a long way to go.  On a scale of 1 to 10, if everyone else scores a 1, and we score a 2, we really don’t need to be patting ourselves on the back and claiming to be the best in the world.  Doctors still have much to learn about the field of medicine, even though most people believe that doctors know more than they really do.  Doctors are continuing to learn every day (primarily by experimenting on us), and much of what they learn is that they’ve been providing patients with wrong information and the wrong treatment.  In the future, we will see how ignorant doctors were back in 2009. 

Some 200 years ago, some of the “best” doctors still routinely administered the treatment of “bleeding” patients, but they later determined that this wasn’t such a great idea.  The same type of thing happens every day in the field of medicine.  Specialists are continually changing their recommendations for daily intake of protein, carbohydrates, caffeine, salt, vitamins, etc., which basically means that what they’ve been telling us for years has been wrong.  Dentists put silver fillings in our mouths, then a few years later they decide that those weren’t such a good idea, so they replace them with porcelain crowns.  Isn’t this a great marketing strategy?  This way they can charge their exorbitant fees twice for the same tooth.  The third time calls for even larger fees to replace that same tooth with an implant.  It’s a cycle that never ends (and seldom helps). 

 What Cigarette Do You Smoke, Doctor

My cynicism, no doubt, extends from my own personal experiences with health care.  Here are a few examples: 

- I saw a doctor about chronic backache.  He fixed my high blood pressure and cholesterol, even though that’s not the reason I was there, and these issues might never have caused a problem at all. Why did he do this?  Because that’s what doctors know how to do–fix high blood pressure and cholesterol.  However, my back still hurts, because he didn’t know what was wrong with it.  So where is the evidence that he did any good at all?  It’s in the results of some research that he read about, but that doesn’t help me with my backache. 

- I saw a doctor because my hands become cold and painful whenever I use a keyboard or a mouse, due to the repetitive motion.  I told her that I have to curb my use of computers, and I have to wear gloves when I do use them.  She (and all of the specialists in her extensive medical network) tested me for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, arthritis, lupus, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and an extra rib (yeah, I didn’t understand this one either).  Their various preliminary diagnoses included everything from tendinitis to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy to sleep apnea (quite a stretch).  They tried treating me with a dozen or so medications, paraffin treatments, ultrasound treatments, an electro-therapy glove, and a CPAP machine.  Why did they do all of this?  Because that’s what they know how to do. Their final diagnosis was Raynaud’s Syndrome, which basically means that they don’t know what it is.  So, after six months (and about 50 visits), what was their suggested treatment?  That’s right:  Due to the repetitive motion, I shouldn’t use the computer so much, and I should wear gloves when I do–the exact things that I told them on the very first day.  The result?  My hands still become cold and painful when I use the computer. 

- Several years ago I was diagnosed with severe depression.  The doctors started a lengthy cycle of prescribing an antidepressant, waiting six weeks, discovering that it didn’t work, and prescribing another one.  It’s not a wonder that so many people with depression commit suicide.  They endure all the suffering that is humanly possible, and they realize that their doctors can’t help. 

- When I contracted poison ivy last summer, I immediately went to the doctor.  He gave me a prescription, but after three more days I was so miserable that I went back to the doctor.  After the second prescription did no good, on my third visit, he referred me to a specialist.  Meanwhile, I would wake up in the middle of the night because my skin was so itchy.  I felt so miserable that I sometimes considered calling 911.  I would bathe in every soothing liquid I could think of, and then sit in front of a fan dabbing various medications onto my skin.  After two visits to the specialist, and increased dosages of a steroid, my symptoms finally subsided, but not before I endured six weeks of  intense suffering, and this wasn’t even a serious disease. 

- I’ve had allergies for some 50 years, and for 40 of those years doctors haven’t been able to do much to relieve my symptoms.  The only thing that the federal government did for me was to take the one medication that brought me some relief (Drixoral) off the market. 

- I saw a dentist because of pain in a particular tooth, which was a mystery to all of the specialists in his dental network.  However, they did fix six other teeth, although these weren’t causing any problems or symptoms.  Since most dental insurance is lousy, I paid most of the bill myself, but the tooth that I originally complained about still hurts. 

- I know a woman who was suffering from severe pain in her shoulder.  After being passed from doctor to doctor, they decided that she had bursitis.  They gave her a shot and sent her home, but as soon as the shot wore off she was miserable again.  So, the doctors changed their diagnosis to “shoulder-lock,” and they gave her medication and therapy.  Her shoulder still hurts just like before (and now her pocketbook is suffering too). 

- I know a man who had surgery for a deviated septum, and then endured five days of painful recovery.  Six weeks later he was no better off than before, and he wished that he hadn’t had the surgery and the suffering that it brought. 

- I know a young lady who had a sore ankle.  The doctors first diagnosed a strep infection.  Then they decided that she had cancer, so they made her sick with chemotherapy and then amputated her leg.  What kind of Civil War-era “treatment” is that?  After declaring her to be cancer-free, her cancer returned. 

- I knew a (relatively healthy) man who submitted to an angiogram on his heart, at the recommendation of his doctor.  After the procedure, the first time he got up from his hospital bed, he had a massive heart attack and died.  The doctors claimed that it was just a coincidence, and it had nothing to do with the procedure.  Shouldn’t they have at least admitted that it was possible that the test caused a blood clot? 

- I know a man who underwent artery bypass surgery upon recommendation from the doctors and surgeons.  After eleven days of suffering in the hospital, they sent him home to suffer (forgetting to prescribe any pain medication).  They told him that he would feel like new in six months (and they congratulated themselves, and recorded another “success” on their spreadsheets).  Soon he was back because of fluid on his lungs.  A few months later he was back because he still had no energy.  They diagnosed atrial fibrillation, and they “shocked” his heart and sent him home.  He’s still sick–the cycle never ends. 

- I knew a woman with congestive heart failure.  Sorry, this isn’t on the doctors’ list of what they know how to treat.  So, after five years of angina, depression, ineffective medication, and hundreds of wasted visits to doctors and hospitals, she died a painful death. 

- We all know many people with diabetes who are “treated” with insulin shots and a strict diet, but who still often die prematurely. 

Doctors usually don’t know how to treat their patients, so they do so based upon certain studies, but often without even applying good reasoning.  They fail to notice when the results of a study are within the margin of error (basically, inconclusive), and they take action as though the one medication that helped a handful of people is going to help everyone.  They don’t realize that the results of those studies are often biased by a researcher who is trying to prove his own hypothesis, or by a drug company that is trying to drum up business for a new drug. 

Here’s the trick with these studies:  The researchers use a group of, say, 2,000 people.  Of 1,000 people treated with a placebo, six of them die.  Of 1,000 people treated with a new drug, only three die.  Their conclusion?  That the new drug cuts the risk by 50% (from six to three).  However, they’re stating the results using relative risk.  In terms of absolute risk, the results are really inconclusive (0.3%) and within the margin of error:  0.6% in the placebo group ( 6 / 1000 ) vs. 0.3% in the treated group ( 3 / 1000 ).  In situations like this, I’ve even heard them say that the risk is “doubled” if the new drug isn’t used (from three to six).  This is clever, but quite deceptive. 

Despite what we want to think, doctors are not healers.  How many people do you know who have had repeated (and unsuccessful) surgeries for the same ailment, such as back problems?  Doctors can set a broken bone, in basically the same way they did 100 years ago.  They are probably best at treating soar throats.  They are quite skilled at making the soar throat go away after trying a few medications (and enduring their side effects).  This process usually takes about three weeks (with multiple, and expensive, visits, of course), when the soar throat would have probably healed itself in a few days. 

Doctors also think that they’re good at artery bypass surgeries, regardless of how much they’re actually helping their patients.  Even if the operation is successful, and even if it helps for a while, the patient’s quality of life still suffers due to the frequent (and expensive) doctor visits, the stressful waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms, and the constant rotation of medications and their side effects.  Also, the more doctors that are involved, the worse it is.  The patient might as well just plan on canceling any future plans for his life, and devoting 100% of his time to his health situation.  He had better get used to the three trips per week to the various doctors for the rest of his life, because none of them are capable of monitoring which drugs they’re prescribing, or balancing the side effects with any benefits.  Then there are all of those subsequent procedures, like removing fluid from the lungs that was caused by the initial surgery. 

Simply stated, doctors only do the things that they know how to do, regardless of whether or not it helps us.  This is a sad situation.  Yes, I realize that with billions of dollars of research, they have made great strides in certain specialized areas such as prosthetics, but what have they done for more wide-spread problems such as cancer, diabetes, and the common cold? 

The opponents to health care reform are concerned about denying treatment in certain cases.  They often ask, “What if the doctor is wrong?”  In other words, what if a patient is denied treatment, but the doctor later realizes that they needed that particular treatment after all?  Well, that would be unfortunate, and no doubt those kinds of situations would occur.  However, we need to stop asking, “What if the doctor is wrong?” and just accept that fact that doctors are often wrong.  They are forever telling us that certain diseases are caused by certain foods and nutrients in our diet, and then a few years later they inform us that avoiding those foods and nutrients caused an even worse health problem.  We need to realize that doctors are, ever so slowly, increasing their knowledge base (and using us as test subjects). 

Unfortunately, doctors often hinder rather than help.  They perform unnecessary tests or surgical procedures, and sometimes the patient dies.  Sometimes this happens because they underestimated a risk factor, they made a surgical error, or the patient contracted a staff infection in the hospital.  How much “help” are they providing for unborn babies who are aborted?  When did they remove the “first do no harm” clause from the Hippocratic oath? 

Consider the doctor who administers an unnecessary screening for cancer.  Upon a positive result, he then treats the patient for a cancer that never would have caused a problem.  However, the treatment itself causes the patient to die, due to an infection or an innocent mistake during treatment.  How much good has that doctor done for that patient?  Without the doctor, the patient would still be alive and well, but with the doctor, the patient died and his family suffered. 

So, what if the doctors are wrong?  Well, I bring bad news because doctors are often wrong indeed.  Perhaps it would be a blessing in disguise for certain health care to be restricted.  Maybe it would protects us from the poor judgment and wrong decisions by ignorant doctors.  Yes, I’m sure that my personal experiences have made me somewhat cynical.  (Maybe it’s time for my annual bleeding.)  However, if our health care system is truly the best in the world, then may God have mercy on the rest of the world.

New Ideas About End-of-Life Health Consultations

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Early versions of the proposed health care reform included mandated end-of-life consultations for the elderly, every five years.  Although the final version of the bill may not include this piece of the original plan, this is being touted by its opponents as a way of teaching the elderly to commit suicide.  However, I think that when we approach this issue from a godly perspective, then these end-of-life consultations could have some value.  Maybe they could help us weigh the alternatives of how we want to spend our dying years.  Consider these examples: 

- Maybe they could help us to reevaluate our priorities.  The mere fact that God has left each of us here indicates that He’s not through with us yet, and we still have a purpose to fulfil.  How can we best determine what that purpose is, in order to bring the maximum amount of glory to Him by optimizing the time that we may have left on this earth? 

- They might help us realize that the dozens of prescription medications pills that we take every day may actually be doing us more harm than good.  Maybe we should (at least temporarily) discontinue all or part of our daily regimen of prescription drugs.  Since we take so many, how do we even know which ones, if any, are even beneficial for us.  After all, the FDA hasn’t conducted extensive research on that particular combination of pills that each individual currently takes.  How do we know that it’s better to suffer from the cumulative side effects of all of these pills than to withstand the symptoms that originally made us seek medical advice?  How do we know that the effects of one drug don’t destroy the benefits of another.  How do we know that a particular pill will have the same effect on us as it did on the majority of those in selected studies?  After all, not everyone in those studies was helped by it, and many may have even been harmed by it.  These people that didn’t fare so well are often the source of the long list of side effects associated with each drug. 

Maybe age 65 or so is a good time to empty all of our pill bottles into the sink and start over.  After all, we’re still not feeling that well even with the pills, so (may I dare say it), maybe our doctors were wrong.  Maybe our bodies are so full of pharmaceutical chemicals that we’re sick because of the prescription drugs, not because we’re aging.  Many of the problems for which we seek medical help may indeed simply be a part of the normal aging process.  Maybe some counseling would be a good idea, so that we can learn what to expect from normal aging, and make an intelligent decision about continuing to take our dozens of daily pills, or experimenting by discontinuing some or all of them.

- Maybe we should stop the endless cycle of undergoing more and more surgeries that may or may not help.  Maybe it would help to have someone explain what to expect if we don’t have a particular surgery, as well as what to expect if we do have it.  We undergo far too many unnecessary and expensive surgical procedures or tests that only result in more referrals to new doctors with new specialties who perform more (and often the same) tests and surgeries.  Maybe artery bypass surgery or a knee replacement operation is not always the best solution.  By the way, is anyone even telling these people how long the surgery will require them to stay in the hospital, and the amount of pain and the quality of life to expect for a considerable amount of time after they come home? 

Furthermore, what about the many surgeries that don’t go so well.  When a doctor says that we have a 95% probability of surviving a bypass surgery, we seem to be sure that we’re in that 95% group.  However, five people out of every 100 will die.  Some people don’t even survive the preliminary (and quite invasive) angiogram procedure. 

When the doctor says that we have a 70% chance of having minimal or no complications after that knee replacement, what about the 30% that will indeed have considerable problems?  Some of that group will be wishing they had never had the surgery, and they will believe that the doctor deceived them about the benefits to be expected. 

What about those who are (not uncommonly) attacked by a staff infection during their stay in the hospital?  Some of those people die, and others endure much suffering that would have been avoided if they had just stayed at home and dealt with the symptoms of their problem.

- Maybe somebody needs to explain to us that we are each empowered by God to be responsible for our own body and health, just as each individual is responsible for his own spiritual well-being (Acts 17:11, Galatians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:5-9).  We have elevated doctors to such an extent that we simply entrust our bodies to them.  Don’t we understand that we’re each just a test case, and a statistic, for each doctor who treats us?  Over time, he might learn to make some intelligent recommendations, but meanwhile, we must each take charge of our own health care.  Doctors work for us, not us for the doctors.  In far too many cases, we just march into the doctor’s office, at his beckon call, and when he says that we need surgery, we continue marching into the hospital, we allow total strangers to perform the most invasive and intrusive procedures upon our bodies, and many of us just keep right on marching into the cemetery. 

I believe that if a doctor wants to perform a test in order to rule out a potential cause of a problem, then we need to ask him how much it costs.  Then we should research that problem and its symptoms ourselves.  If our research convinces us that we do not have that problem, or simply that the test is not worth it, then we should inform the doctor that we won’t be undergoing that test.  We should instruct him to now proceed to Plan B, and let him know that we will eventually deliver our decision to him about it as well. 

Some professional consultation might truly be beneficial toward the end of our lives.  The field of geriatrics is growing, and perhaps we need a single primary medical contact, instead of just allowing ourselves to be passed from specialist to specialist, each of whom orders the same unnecessary tests and then adds his own new unnecessary procedure.  We only need to empower ourselves to take charge of our own health care, and at the same time we should be educating ourselves on our particular issues.  We might have end-of-life consultations or we might seek advice from a geriatric specialist or another doctor.  However, we should remember that we’re each in charge of our own individual bodies.  We seek out counsel, and then we make the decision for ourselves, not only on what will be done, but also how much it will cost.  The buck (literally) stops here.

How Long Should We Expect To Live?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

One of the complaints about the Obama administration’s health care plan is that it will be “half-paid-for” by reducing health care services for the elderly.  Should we be surprised that our physical health worsens with age?  Since the elderly incur most of our health care costs, it follows that reform would also disproportionally affect our older Americans.  If Americans really want reform, then the largest demographic group of health care consumers cannot remain unaffected. 

We are told by one side that health care reform will cause us (and our parents) to live shorter lives, with increased pain and suffering.  At the same time, we are told by the opposing side that the lack of reform will cause us to live shorter lives.  However, we should ask, “Shorter than what?”  Shorter than if we had taken another pill to sustain us for another day of suffering?  Shorter than what God intends?  Psalm 90:9-10 says “… we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength.” 

We must redefine what we mean by a health care crisis.  If our average life span was 30, like it was during the Middle Ages, then perhaps we would have a health care crisis.  If our average life span in the U.S. was 59 years, as it now is in Russia, perhaps then we would have a crisis since this is still far short of the Bible’s definition of an average life span.  However, since our life expectancy is about 80 years, then having octogenarians (“Worried Sick” by Nortin Hadler) who die before reaching the age of 90 or 100 does not constitute a health care crisis.  If we do think that this is a health care crisis, then we are playing a game that can’t be won, by striving for a fountain of youth; i.e., striving for eternal life. 

Oh, but wait, through Christ, we already do have eternal life, just not in this present life.  Does anyone really believe that a lengthened life in this life, where our bodies are imperfect, is somehow superior to life in eternity? 

If we really do have a health care crisis, it’s because of the millions of unborn babies that we have aborted.  Why aren’t we worried about their shorter lives that have indeed been shortened by 70 or 80 years?  Or what about our thousands of men and women in their late teens and early twenties whose lives were shortened by 50 or 60 years on battlefields of wars that we never intended to win, such as Vietnam?  We can only pray that the same thing hasn’t been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let’s Calm the Political Rhetoric

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I’m a conservative Evangelical Christian who leans far to the right on almost every political issue.  However, we need to end the futile and endless cycle of political rhetoric used by both the left and the right.  Since my point is to stop blaming the other side for everything, we need to approach this by just cleaning up our own act.  Therefore, I’ll use the Obama health care plan as an example, and admonish my fellow Republicans instead of the Democrats. 

Opposition to health care reform bills has been explosive from Republicans, evangelicals, and conservative talk show hosts, evangelical leaders.  The current legislation has been called “a vicious assault on the elderly,” and “creeping euthanasia.”  Some have even made analogies to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.  The inflammatory political rhetoric of such accusations is not limited to either of the two major political parties.  Both sides find it easier to be cynical, by leveling attacks on their opponents than, instead of defending their own policies.  We seem to prefer the competition of the political arena rather than the challenge of solving our problems.  Unfortunately, it takes much less time and thought to call each other names than to come up with better solutions.  If it’s our objective to be argumentative and to find flaws in our opponents and their policies, then our job is much easier.  Here are a couple of examples: 

Should the government dictate that all coverage is identical (a true rationing of health care), removing the option to get more or better health care by paying for it themselves?  If the patient is using using his own money to pay for his health care, instead of Medicare or health insurance, should the government still have a say in the matter?  Well, this would be easy to complain about, simply because it’s being proposed by one’s opposing political party, no matter which way it’ decided: 

  – If no health care is be restricted for those who can afford to pay their own way, then we would complain about the fairness of this policy because rich people can have certain health care that poorer people can’t afford. 

  – If certain health care is restricted even for paying for it themselves, then we would complain that this policy is inconsistent with free enterprise, and even our freedom. 

My party has used another tactic to play on the fears of baby boomers by reminding them that they need to protect their parents from these evils.  However, if we really respect the sanctity of life, then why are my parents more important than somebody else’s parents?  Of course, they’re more important to me, because they’re my__ parents.  God shows no favoritism (Romans 2:11), and neither should we.  If we aren’t able to argue our point without playing on people’s emotions, then we should reexamine our own policies.