The debate — OK, the shouting match — we are having over “health care reform” is about many things, including cost, who gets help and who does not and who, or what, gets to make that determination. Underlying it all is a larger question: Is human life something special? Is it to be valued more highly than, say, plants and pets? When someone is in a “persistent vegetative state” do we mean to say that person is equal in value to a carrot?
Are we now assigning worth to human life, or does it arrive with its own predetermined value, irrespective of race, class, IQ or disability?
The bottom line is not the bottom line. It is something far more profound. Our decisions regarding who will get help and who won’t are more than about bean-counting bureaucrats deciding if your drugs or operation will cost more than you are contributing to the U.S. Treasury.
The secular left claims we are evolutionary accidents who managed to crawl out of the slime and by “natural selection” stand erect and over millions of years outsmart our ancestors, the apes. If that is your belief, then you probably think health care should be rationed. Why spend lots of money to improve — or save — the life of someone who evolved from slime and has no special significance other than the “accident” of becoming human? Policies flow from such a philosophy, though the average secularist probably wouldn’t put it in such stark terms. Stark, or not, isn’t this the inevitable progression of seeing humanity as maybe complex, but nothing special?
The opposing view sees human beings as unique creations. Even Thomas Jefferson, identified by historians as a Deist who doubted the existence of a personal God, understood that if certain rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) do not come from a source beyond the reach of the state, then the state could take those rights away. Those who believe that God made us and also makes the rules about our existence and our behavior will have a completely different understanding of life’s value and our approach to affirming it until natural death.
It is between these two distinctly different worldview goal posts that the battle is taking place. Few from the “endowed rights” side are saying that a 100-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor should be given extraordinary and expensive care to keep the heart pumping, even after brain waves have gone flat. But there is a big difference between “letting go” and “snuffing out.” The unnatural progression for many on the secular left is to see such a person as a “burden.” In an age when we think we should be free of burdens — a notion that contributes to our superficiality and makes us morally obtuse — getting rid of granny might seem perfectly rational, even defensible. But by doing so, we assume an even greater burden: the role of God in deciding who gets to live and who must die. Anyone who has seen the film “Bruce Almighty” senses how difficult it is to play God.
We are now witnessing some of the consequences of attempting to ban people with a God perspective from the public square. If there are no rules and no one to whom one might appeal when those rules are violated, we are on our own to set whatever rules we wish and to change them in a moment in response to opinion polls. Any appeals to a higher authority stop at the Supreme Court.
The explosive town-hall meetings are indications that Americans are trusting government less and less. So where should we go? The answer is in your wallet or purse. It’s on the money. Right now it is little more than a slogan, but what if it became true: in God We Trust.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.