First published in The Bahama Journal on Friday, December 15, 2006.
It is truly amazing to observe lawyers, especially those who choose politics as a career, engaging in the art of debate. The sophistry displayed by them as they argue wrong to be right and right to be wrong, could indeed be so baffling or confusing to the non or shallow thinker that he simply tunes them out or accepts their conclusions as right.
This seems to be the case with the highly volatile National Health Insurance debate. Opposing sides play slight of hand with words to persuade their followers to accept their position as the right one, and in the process do their darndest to demonise the other side.
One of the arguments used to persuade people to support the introduction of the proposed national health scheme says that those who oppose it are against the poor. The inference seems to be that this is the only scheme that will benefit the poor and no other could; and so everyone should support it. Of course this is impossible in a free democracy.
Even if the scheme were perfect, not everyone would choose or support it; just as not everyone chooses God who is perfect. That’s how humans were created – with the free will to choose good or evil. When they choose evil, this does not make them evil or demons. We all have fallen short of perfection, and so are not in the position to condemn anyone unless we are willing to condemn ourselves just as vehemently when we choose to do wrong.
A second argument says that those who oppose the National Health Insurance are only those who are concerned with the bottom line of their business. The inference seems to be that those who work for profit are not concerned about the plight of the poor. Are we saying that Bill Gates of Microsoft and industrialist Warren Buffet who have just donated billions to a Gates foundation to help educate the poor and assist in the fight against HIV/AIDS, have no concern for the poor? Or Dkembe Mutombo of the U.S. National Basketball Association fame, who has donated lots of his personal wealth to his foundation which has just built a hospital in his poor African country, does not feel for the poor? Are we suggesting that the many Bahamian docctors and other wealthy and not so weallthy do not care about the poor?
If we were to do some research into the background of those people who have reservations about the NHI in its present form, we would probably find that many of them have been donating their time, talent and treasure to help the poor for many years through scholarship programmes, working with and in charitable organisations, and even donating to cookouts. At the same time if we were to research the background of the many vociferous voices who vigourously support the present proposal, we would probably find many of them having done very little to assist their brethren in need. We just may find that many of them fall in the category of those who are often expecting something for nothing.
In this regard, we are reminded of a parent who complained when high school tuition was raised by some $50.00 per term, when he was spending that amount on weekly drinking social gatherings. One might say that his priority was all screwed up, a state in which we often find many of our people.
At the moment the demonisation barbs seem directed at the outspoken doctors, the same ones, no doubt, on whom the success of the scheme will depend. From the onset they must be feeling somewhat demoralised, like mere pawns on a chess board.
At the moment doctors are being projected as materialistic hounds in pursuit of wounded prey. We wonder how the demonisers of the legal profession would feel if and how they would be behaving if government similarly pursued the introduction of a national legal aid programme. Would they feel the same if they had to forgo lots of their lucrative legal fees in favour of working in a government controlled system of legal aid, where they had to donate time, talent and treasure or work at the fairly reduced salary similar to the teaching profession or other professionals in the public service.
Finally, frequent reference is made to national insurance programmes in other countries, which is fine for persuasion purpose, but a very important dimension seems to be left out inadvertently or deliberately. In all of those countries there is income tax that does not put an unfair burden on the poor as it does in the Bahamas. There is probably tax on businesses also, which in some cases drive them to our taxless shores. As a result those countries can afford many more programmes for the improved health of their people.
To what degree should a democratic government in a democratic state usurp the responsibility of personal health and health habits from families? Where should family responsibility for the health of its members end and state assistance begin, without attacking the dignity and right to choose? Are we very subtly moving toward a Hammer and Sickle area, or do we want to move toward a responsible, mature democracy, and how shall we get there?
E-mail comments to: Vincent Ferguson
Published with the kind permission of the author. The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.