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Death and the National Health Service

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“I’ve seen the future, baby: it is murder.”

— Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

The British are so proud of their National Health Service. Hospitals are falling apart and have become a breeding ground for staph infections; waiting lists and the rationing of care are the norm, and “new medical technologies” has become an oxymoron.

But to hear them tell it, their world would fall apart without “free” care. Never mind that it isn’t free — someone is paying for it — all they want is their illusion of universal care, and the even bigger illusion of superiority it brings.

The NHS’s website proudly boasts that since its creation in 1948 the NHS has become “one of the most efficient” and “comprehensive” publicly funded healthcare systems in the world. “It covers everything from antenatal screening and routine treatments for coughs and colds to open heart surgery, accident and emergency treatment and end-of-life care.”

As far as “efficiency” is concerned, the NHS certainly has “end-of-life care” down to a fine science. A story in the Mail Online (November 28) reports that NHS hospitals are now discharging extremely sick babies so they “can die at home or in hospice.”

Nor are terminally ill babies any better off in a hospital. Quite the contrary, they may have their feeding tubes removed so they can die of dehydration.

Talk about efficiency: apparently it only takes about ten days.

Critics of this process — called the Liverpool Care Pathway, or LCP — say it is “used to clear hospital beds and save the NHS money.” Bernadette Lloyd, a pediatric nurse, wrote in a letter to the Cabinet Office and Department of Health that “I have … seen children die in terrible thirst because fluids are withdrawn from them until they die.” She said “parents feel coerced” to place their children on this “path.”

Why would the “one of the most efficient” systems in the world need to save money in this way?

Because government rarely does anything efficiently. That’s why taxes go up, private alternatives are pursued, and “cost-cutting” measures of all types are explored to keep the system afloat. Even, we now see, depriving sick babies of food and water.

During the Obamacare debates in 2010, there was a lot of talk about “death panels” that would decide whether a particular medical treatment was necessary or “cost-effective” for a given patient, driving a bureaucratic wedge between doctors and patients. Those claims were denounced as reactionary by apologists for a government-run system — many of whom see the NHS as a model for the United States.

The British, by comparison, stopped trying to hide their preference for euthanasia some time ago. But previously, the “end of life regime … was thought to have involved only elderly and terminally-ill adults,” reports the Mail. (Apparently there are about 130,000 such people per year. And about half of them are never even told what’s being done.) It was only a matter of time before children made the list.

Ah, the virtues of a single-payer system.

In the unlikely event that the mainstream media in the United States gives this story the attention it deserves, we’re sure to hear from leftist commentators who will mockingly lecture us that it’s “no different” in the United States. Didn’t Mitt Romney practically kill a woman with cancer when Bain Capital canceled her husband’s health insurance?

No advocate of private medical care has ever proposed that a free market will cure scarcity. Far from it, they argue that resources — all resources — are finite.

The market, if allowed, is far superior at delivering medical care to those in need. It also brings amazing technological developments and life-saving medicines. That, along with the need for individuals to be personally responsible for their own health care decisions, is why private care is best.

Furthermore, it is the amount of money raked in by doctors and hospitals in a private system that makes available the resources necessary to keep patients alive as long as possible — as opposed to leaving them to die in order to save money.

The whole rationale behind the NHS was the belief that scarcity could be beaten — if only politicians and their hirelings had enough money and power. Now the NHS is on the “brink of collapse” — and Britain’s most vulnerable citizens are being sacrificed to keep up appearances.

Few Britons will conclude from this that the system should be jettisoned. Far from it: many will argue that it just needs more money, better oversight.

And, no doubt, greater efficiency.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.