Monday, April 9, 2007

an epidemic of meddling.

There's an interesting article on the implications of public health in May's Reason magazine.

In a nutshell, the author concludes that social medicine is a fantastic shortcut to a totalitarian nanny state. A system where all health care is "free" is a system where the state has the power to regulate virtually all aspects of citizens' lives. The most poignant quotes from the article:

People make mistakes--sometimes expensive, hard-to-correct mistakes--in many areas of life. If that fact is reason enough for the government to second-guess their decisions about dangerous activities such as smoking cigarettes and riding motorcycles, why on earth should the government let people make their own choices when it comes to such consequential matters as where to live, how much education to get, whom to marry, whether to have children, which job to take, or what religion to practice? These decisions are at least as important, and the government is at least as well equipped to make them as it is to decide which health risks are acceptable.


When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them. [...] But even if certain habits do, on balance, increase taxpayer costs, the problem is not that some people do risky things; it's that the government forces other people to pay their medical bills.

The article is an excellent read. I don't always agree with the conclusions presented in Reason's featured articles, but they're always a thought-provoking read. We currently only have three subscriptions coming to our mailbox, but we routinely renew all three: Reason, Free Inquiry, and Writer's Digest.

In other (loosely health-related) news: my 86-year-old grandmother just finished another lengthy stay in the hospital. She's back on her feet now, and showing amazing acuity and resilience for a person of her advanced age, but she's at the point where she can no longer live on her own without taking a major risk. Her next-door neighbor and longtime friend just passed away a few weeks ago, and now grandma's apartment is the only occupied one in her semi-public, rent-controlled building. She'd be all alone in the house, and there's nobody around to help her with groceries or medical emergencies. Therefore, my mother and her husband decided to clean out their master bedroom in their house and give it to grandma. This combines three generations under one roof--four when my siblings and their kids come to visit. My youngest sister is a teenager and still lives at home, and my brother Sascha lives in the upstairs apartment directly above my mom's.

I've come to really like the idea of a multi-generational family under one roof. Since houses are so expensive (and durable) in Germany, parents often pass them down to their children. My brother's wife inherited the family house, for example, and her parents continue to live on the first floor of the house, while my brother and his wife and kids occupy the second floor. This way of living leads to stronger ties between generations: the grandparents see their kids and grandkids every day, they are glad to act as babysitters if needed, my brother is available for tasks that are beyond his 80+ year old in-laws, and everyone in the house can pool knowledge and resources.

Yeah, there are disadvantages to having the in-laws right downstairs. I know I'd get a little stressed if I had to share a house with my father-in-law, so maybe it doesn't work for every family. Overall, however, the system has undeniable advantages, and I feel much better knowing that my grandma will always be surrounded by loving family from now on, instead of hospital or retirement home staff..or worse, nobody.

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