Mickey Mantle played his way into the pantheon of baseball gods, and drank his way to the brink of death. So in today's cynical debate over health-care priorities, Mick's record drinking would drop him to the bottom of the list for a life-saving transplant. Chilling but true. He's over 60 and was an alcoholic for most of his life, a choice that helped make him as sick as he is today. Then there's his age and medical condition, which would put his chances at about 60 percent for surviving a liver transplant for five years or more.
The cynics would say Mick is a poor risk indeed. They are wrong.
Such a heartless and politicized point of view has gained strength ever since 1984, when former Colorado governor Richard Lamm made the famous declaration that the terminally ill have a "duty to die and get out of the way. Let the oters in society, our children, build a reasonable life," he said. What kind of a reasonable life is it when politicians decide whether it is a good risk to save a human life?
But Lamm had more to say on modern technology, exactly the kind that could save Mickey Mantle. "How many hearts should we give to a smoker....how many liver transplants can we afford to give to an alcoholic," he asked, implying that one was too many
In Oregon, Lamm's legacy lives on in something called the Oregon Health Plan, a "medical rationing" welfare program started in February 1994. The plan prioritizes 565 diseases and their treatments based on how effective the treatments are and how much they cost. Trasplants for liver cancer patients are not funded.
Can we trust the politicians to do the right thing for the sickest and poorest among us? In Oregon, the health professionals decide what diseases and treatments go on the list and then a computer determines treatment priorities based on death rates and costs.
But the politicians decide how much money is spent.
No matter what the proponents
say, the Oregon system rations people out of care
simply by denying them medical services because some politician doesn't like the survival odds or costs. Fortunately, Mick won't have to worry about getting a chance at a liver transplant.
Get well, Mick, before the most cynical of the health-care reformers do us all in.