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Government in the Hospital Bed


The evils of political medicine and medical politics are, right now, plain to see.

capitol3 Ever since I was a boy, I have heard liberal politicians intone, with an air of hushed reverence, that no one has the right to tread upon the holy ground of the doctor's office, in which inner sanctum a woman and her doctor, her private and profoundly personal doctor, discourse upon:

Fixed fate, free will, and providence divine,
On life and death, and guilt and innocence,
On what each man owes to the common good
And what he may reserve unto himself,
Heeding that still small voice of God within.

My apologies.  The wonder of the subject carried me away.  Had I not stopped, I'd have burst into ancient Greek dithyrambs.

In less poetic patois, the actual conversation might go just like one that I overheard once:

Nurse:   "And you are here for an abortion?"
Patient:  "Yes."
Nurse:   "No one is compelling you?"
Patient:  "No."
Nurse:    "How many months do you think you have been pregnant?"
Patient:  "I'm not sure.  Probably two."
Nurse:   "And the reason for your decision?"
Patient:  "I already have a baby, a year and a half old, and I broke up with my boyfriend."
Nurse:   "Is he the father?"
Patient:  "No."
Nurse:   "Do you have somebody who can drive you home this afternoon?"
Patient:  "Yes, my brother is coming to pick me up."

If that sounds too harsh and impersonal, though that is in fact what I heard from my gurney six feet away, I should like some doctor who prescribes birth control pills or who performs abortions or procures orders for them to tell me that he has ever advised his patient about the humanity of the developing child, about the morality of making someone else pay for your irresponsibility, about the baseness of hedonism, about how marriage promotes the common good, or about the dreadful choice between tenacious guilt and soul-destroying self-justification.

No, doctors don't do that.  They'd be sued if they tried.  What the liberals meant, I suppose, was that nobody should intrude upon a strictly medical decision; though again, in the case of abortion, that is absurd.  The strictly medical is strictly medical.  If you have pneumonia, you need medicine.  If your leg is broken, it needs to be set.  If you are in danger of catching or spreading a serious and virulently communicable disease, you need to be warned about it, vaccinated against it, or even quarantined, as a preventive against a foreseeable public menace.

Abortion is not medical, nor is contraception.  The "problem" is not that there is a cancer in the womb, but a baby, who has a claim not only upon his mother but upon his father.  The "problem" for the fornicators is not that the reproductive organs aren't healthy, but that they are. 

These are then eminently social issues.  What kind of people do we want to be?  How healthy are our marriages and families?  What right does the unborn child have to demand protection from all of us, even if all of us should wish to ignore that right?

It is absurd to insist on the antisocial principle that people have no right to protect the fundamental institution that is the family, because sexual activity is merely private, and then to insist one day later that sexual activity is of such public moment, that those who object to baby-snuffing and contraception must be required to participate in the evil, as surely as if they had been dragged into the bedroom to slip the rubber on the cad or bring his mistress her monthly pill with a cup of water.

Perhaps the liberal meant to say that politics should stay out of the operating room.  That is, a doctor and a patient should have one thing on their minds, and that is health.  They should not be thinking about who might win the next election, or how many works the painter with Parkinson's can yet hope to execute, or whether the patient's family is anxious to go on that vacation to Cancun, or how much money from the government the patient can or cannot bring in, or whether a certain amount of money now being spent on this sick person might better be spent upon some supposititious other sick person.

What the liberals meant, I suppose, was that nobody should intrude upon a strictly medical decision; though again, in the case of abortion, that is absurd.

But the liberals do not in fact think that way.  Their aim has been to bring all medicine under political control, so that the State claims an interest in your liver, if you are a still breathing victim of a car accident, but no interest in someone else's liver; rather an interest in someone else's everlasting bed of rest, to free up the bed he's taking up in the hospital.  After all, beds mean money.  Meanwhile the State assumes a power that Jefferson never dreamed that any tyrant could ever possess.  The old State might try you and hang you for murder.  The new State needn't try you for anything at all.  It can simply adjust your prescriptions.

The evils of political medicine and medical politics are, right now, plain to see.  It is no surprise that the Center for Disease Control failed to do all it could to keep the Ebola epidemic from washing up on American shores.  For there was somebody else in the sanctum; somebody else between the doctors and the people they were supposed to protect.

That somebody was Mr. Politics.  I am not saying that he dictated to the doctors.  He didn't have to.  His pacing and his grumbling are distraction enough.

Get used to him.  He is here to stay.



esolenAnthony Esolen. "Government in the Hospital Bed." The Catholic Thing (November 12, 2014).

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:

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The Author

esolen54smesolen7Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. He is the author of many books including: Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Reflections on the Christian LifeIronies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. Anthony Esolen is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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