A tragic story is sweeping the Internet: A British baby with a rare, fatal genetic disease is slated to be taken off of life support against the wishes of his parents. Ten-month-old Charlie Gard, who cannot move or breathe on his own, suffers from an incurable disorder in a London children’s hospital. The boy’s devastated parents have appealed the hospital’s decision to remove life support, but high courts in both Britain and the European Union have ruled against them.
Now, as the fateful moment approaches, both U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis have offered help. Apparently, an experimental treatment for Charlie’s disorder exists in the United States, and the Gards wish to take their son to the U.S. to try it out. However, experts acknowledge that the treatment will not cure the disorder and that Charlie’s severe brain damage is irreversible.
Despite the seeming consensus of medical experts that Charlie Gard’s tragic condition is permanent, Donald Trump’s public offer of help via Twitter has created a new front in the ongoing healthcare battle. Conservatives have seized on the Charlie Gard drama to accuse state-run medicine of using “death panels” that allow bureaucrats to decide when to withdraw care, mirroring accusations leveled against Obamacare in 2009, most notably by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Trump’s offer of medical assistance for Charlie Gard may come from genuine concern and desire for philanthropy, but it is likely a ham-handed attempt to galvanize his supporters against government involvement in healthcare. Conservatives have been railing against the alleged evils of single-payer healthcare by portraying the Charlie Gard case as a “court-ordered killing.” No mention is made by these conservative media outlets that, in the United States, determination of medical care is also usually outside the hands of parents and guardians. In the U.S., the level of medical care is typically controlled by health insurance corporations.
Intensive care and life support are terribly expensive, and profit-seeking health insurance companies don’t want to pay. Criticizing single-payer healthcare regarding the tragic Charlie Gard case erroneously implies that a withdrawal of care would never happen under America’s system of privatized healthcare. Sadly, here in the U.S., it is unlikely that baby Charlie would have made it to almost eleven months old. His parents’ health insurers would have fought tooth and nail to deny care.
Here in America, healthcare is rationed by your ability to pay. The “death panels” are the limits of your bank accounts and the whims of your health insurers. Conservatives who are applauding Trump for offering to help the Gards are strangely silent when it comes to the abuses of the U.S. health insurance industry. They are pointing fingers at the courts and bureaucracies but ignoring the rampant and abusive denial of claims by private health insurers.
If Donald Trump truly cared about the plight of the Gards, he would seek to expand access to medical care for all Americans. Encouraging philanthropy to help a handful of select, tragic cases may generate media buzz, but it lets millions of citizens continue to suffer in obscurity. If conservatives want to prevent children from having their healthcare withdrawn by callous and penny-pinching boards of men in suits, they should be combating health insurance corporations.
Only single-payer healthcare guarantees that America will put the medical needs of citizens over profits. There is no way to help the Charlie Gards of America through our current, privatized system. GoFundMe pages will help only a handful of the most appealing and media-savvy parents raise funds when their health insurers deny treatments. Just like with public school, only the government can be counted on to help those who are considered “bad investments” by profit-seeking providers.
Private schools don’t want to educate students with problems, and health insurers don’t want to fund the healthcare of those with problems. Fortunately, when it came to K-12 education, Americans were smart enough to realize that society couldn’t rely solely on private schools. Only collective public action could educate children and end the scourge of child labor.
Conservatives of America, GoFundMe campaigns won’t save your children when Cigna, Aetna, or BlueCross deny your claims. Donald Trump won’t tweet that Air Force One and his net worth are swooping in to save you. Pope Francis will not be offering a spot in a well-equipped Vatican hospital. The tragic Charlie Gard case reveals that we need collective public action to help as many people as we can, not rely on extreme acts of generosity to counteract the failings of our current healthcare system.
The British courts and bureaucrats may seem callous, but they are far more humane than any corporation that seeks profit-maximization for its shareholders. The Charlie Gards of America are not good for corporate profit, so they will seek to deny coverage if at all possible. Only single-payer healthcare will create a system where those deemed “unprofitable” are still treated with care and compassion.