In the Loop: Well wishes for the healthcare industry

April 1, 2004
Severals years ago, my mother-in-law went to her doctor for a routine checkup. A health-conscious, active woman, then in her early fifties, she was told everything was fine

Severals years ago, my mother-in-law went to her doctor for a routine checkup. A health-conscious, active woman, then in her early fifties, she was told everything was fine. Later in the year, however, she began having abdominal pain and was subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage four. Within seven months of the discovery, a mere fifteen months after the exam, she died.

Naturally, friends and relatives wanted to know what went wrong. Did the doctors miss something? Did they run the right tests? Did they follow the proper procedures? Would an earlier diagnosis have made a difference?

Unfortunately, there is no “early” diagnosis for a disease like that — at least not yet. So there’s no one to blame, and no where to point the finger. Despite the previous checkup results, the outcome was inevitable.

Now I know this sort of talk won’t sit well with some people. In their worldview, they are entitled to reach a certain age, and it’s the medical industry’s responsibility to get them there. Politicians and lawyers are propagating this mindset, and in the process, destroying the very system we rely on to keep us well. If I were a doctor today, I’d be afraid to tell anyone anything other than, “You’re going to die, but the cause is not yet apparent. We need to run more tests.”

At issue here is the plain fact that we are mortal. We all live in the valley of the shadow of death, and there’s not an HMO, machine, test, or campaign promise that can change that. The moment our first cell forms, there’s a due bill on our life that drops into in the mail; it’s just a matter of when and how the “envelope” arrives. In my mother-in-law’s case, it was a genetic link to an aggressive form of cancer. It claimed her mother’s life as well.

Medicine was never intended to heal all diseases. It can’t. Nor can it give us any guarantees associated with life. Its role, quite simply, is to help us stay well and relatively pain-free from the time we are conceived until the time we die. Those who would purpose it otherwise are not only wrong, but also to blame for many problems plaguing the healthcare industry today.

Adopting a realistic view toward mortality is just the first step in making healthcare well again. Another step is re-establishing the sanctity and value of life itself. Obviously, there’s something amiss if we need legislation to prevent doctors from delivering babies up to their necks just to say that the child was still inside its mother — without rights — while the doctor punctured its skull and sliced up its brain. That’s not the kind of healthcare system I want taking care of me. They can use whatever terminology they want; abortion is still murder. So is euthanasia.

Human genetic engineering, though further out, is an even slipperier slope. Wisdom says stay away. The intellectual property rights don’t belong to us. We didn’t invent the code, we don’t own it, we just inherited it. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that we are the code, and to mess with it is akin to suicide. Besides, the last thing the healthcare industry needs is another tether that profiteers can use to drag it around.

In fact, if we really want to fix the system, we need to eliminate the manipulative element altogether. This includes socialist-leaning bureaucrats, ambulance-chasing lawyers, and money-hungry insurance companies, among others. Any other issues, especially the cost of drugs and sophisticated treatments and equipment, will be settled by free-market dynamics.

Many of you work for companies that have a hand in all this, supplying the medical and pharmaceutical industries. I know you face some of the same bureaucratic pressures as a result. All I can say is hang in there. I’ve been in this field long enough to know that the best is yet to come in terms of medical manufacturing and test equipment. And you are the ones who will make it happen. Granted, it may be too late my mother-in-law, but the next generation, including my wife and daughter, will be counting on you.

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