Ruminations, January 2, 2011
Death panels: Inevitable?
“The America I know and love is not one … [where people] will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil,” – Sarah Palin, November, 2010.
On National Public Radio last week, callers seemed to be delighted to point out that the Republicans who dominated Arizona state legislature, were hypocrites. Arizona passed a Medicaid restriction that denied, for fiscal reasons, coverage for organ transplants such as bone-marrow, lung, heart and liver transplants. Callers said that this was the enactment of the death panels that Republicans had lamented.
It was an interesting response from both perspectives. From the Democrats point of view, Republicans (some of whom) called the so-called “death panels” evil, were enacting a form of death panel themselves. From the Republican point of view, they were enacting a restriction on a government-run health care program (Medicaid) that could very well mimic a national health care system.
A fact of health care is that we cannot afford to provide unlimited services to everyone. When an insurance company provides health coverage, it specifies what it will cover and what it will not, in a contract called a policy. A policyholder can negotiate for more coverage (for a higher premium) or lower coverage (for a reduced premium).
When a government agency undertakes to provide a service, it is limited by tax receipts. Under Medicaid, states provide up to 50 percent of the funding with the federal government providing the rest. If tax receipts are equal to or greater than patients’ requests, then everything is copasetic. If patients’ requests for medical services outstrip the funds available, then the alternatives are to increase taxes or to deny some services to some patients.
Arizona has evaluated patients’ demands for medical services and decided that the tax receipts are inadequate to meet the demand. They have, therefore, chosen to deny some services. Critics say that, in many cases, this is the equivalent of a death sentence and they’re right.
And Arizona’s not alone. Britain’s National Health Service has instituted cuts of some $33 billion at the behest of the Labour Party’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This will, according to the World Socialist Web site, condemn “many to unnecessary suffering and even death.” The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (going by the acronym of NICE) was established five years ago to, among other things, evaluate the “Quality-Adjusted Life Year” versus the cost, and to ration care accordingly.
However much the term “death panel” rankles, it is a fact of life for government-provided health care. If we call it NICE, as they do in Britain, it still accomplishes the same thing. And if extending your life depends on other people’s money, you have little say. And the panels are no more evil than death itself.
Global warming: Science or politics?
Global warming, climate change or whatever you choose to call it, is a political issue that has little to do with science. There is, to be sure, some scientific evidence on the issue, but the science is only used when it fits the politics of the speaker.
According to Harris Interactive in a 2007 poll, of 489 self-identified climate scientists, 84 percent believe that human-induced global warming is occurring and 74 percent believe that current science proves the point. This is a statistic that we hear from those often called “alarmists” by their critics ( who are often called “deniers” by the alarmists – maybe we need to use those terms until better ones evolve). Case closed? Maybe not.
What about the 31,487 climate scientists who signed a petition in 2008 rejecting the idea of human-induced global warming? Their petition states, in part, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” (My emphasis.)
Should we take a poll of all climate scientists world-wide and settle the science once and for all? But wait a minute; we decide politics, not science, by majority vote. Indeed, scientific laws often originate in a minority view that is criticized by the majority.
So what to do? Ideally, we should eliminate the politics and leave the subject open to scientific inquiry. Going back to the Harris Poll, 56 percent of the survey respondents believe that the temperature on earth may rise by as much as two degrees over the next 100 years. At the same time, the National Aeronautical Space Administration tells us that the ice caps on Mars have been melting and a study from Universityof California, Berkeley said that the temperature on Jupiter may rise by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperature increases cannot be human-induced and must, therefore, be caused by the sun.
Are we to believe that the climate scientists in the Harris survey are nincompoops and can’t tell the difference between sun and human-induced warming? Hardly. They and we know that the sun has a great influence on earthly temperatures. In fact, increases in earth temperatures can be caused by the sun and humans at the same time and, given the enormous increase in population and technology over the last century, it’s probably a good bet that humans do influence temperatures on earth.
But before we embark on multi-billion dollar programs to slow human-induced global warming, perhaps it would be a good idea to estimate how much of future global warming will be caused by the sun. If the temperature does increase by 2 degrees Celsius, will the sun cause 99 percent of that increase? Or maybe one percent? If the sun causes 99 percent of global warming, there’s not much we can do to offset that increase. On the other hand, if the sun causes just one percent, then there is a lot we can do. And, maybe it would be useful to estimate an ideal temperature for the globe; it could be that an increase in temperature is optimal.
But maybe we are, at heart, political creatures and would rather dismiss the uncertainty of science and be an alarmist or a denier. After all, in school, science was always a harder subject than politics.
Quote without comment
Richard S. Lindzen, MIT Atmospheric Scientist, October 21, 2005: “The public discourse on global warming has little in common with the standards of scientific discourse. Rather, it is part of political discourse where comments are made to secure the political base and frighten the opposition rather than to illuminate issues. In political discourse, information is to be ‘spun’ to reinforce pre-existing beliefs, and to discourage opposition.”