Friday, December 23, 2005

When government kills people

Since the dawn of human civilization, big government has killed people via outright massacres and deliberate starvation. In modern times, big government very much kills people by denying them the freedom to choose experimental medical treatments that might be successful.

Don Ho (link is to an AP article at Yahoo! News) underwent a highly experimental procedure for his failing heart. It was successful, and as he said, "It was my last hope."

Are government bureaucrats God, or agents of the Almighty, that they can approve or deny this procedure, though the patient fully accepts any and all risks involved? These were Ho's own stem cells. The procedure involves no embryos, so neither side of the "culture of life" debate applies here. Ah, but government steps in to save us from ourselves, because like Paul Krugman and big government's other proponents say, government should reduce the risk in our lives. Even if we accept those risks, and even if we believe we have much to gain?

As Jefferson said, and this is worth quoting as often as needed, "The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or his estate, which would more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills."

When my father had a stroke at 80 years old, there was at least one clot that immediately threatened his life. With standard treatment, he had very poor odds of survival, let alone recovery. The then-new "clot-buster" drugs were the only treatment capable of clearing the blockage. These particular substances had recently been approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use on stroke patients outside of tests.

I was 22 at the time and still living at home, but I was out when my father suddenly fell down in the kitchen that night. He later told me that he knew instantly that it was a stroke. What he didn't tell me was that he begged my mother, the only other person home, to help him to bed so he could die in peace. Thankfully she refused to give up and instead called 911. She was too distraught to go to the hospital with him, however. By the time I got home, learned what happened and rushed to the hospital, I found that my father was lucid enough that he had chosen and had already taken the new drugs.

The doctors had explained to him very carefully that the "clot-busters" had but a 10% chance of success; there was a 90% chance they would work too well, causing an uncontrollable brain hemorrhage and subsequent death. Aware that standard treatment, at best, meant he'd spend the rest of his life as an invalid, my father figured he had nothing to lose. He chose to take the new drugs, which succeeded without causing a hemorrhage. They succeeded well enough that, true to his style, he was busy charming all the night shift nurses. He still lost a lot of strength and his sense of taste, but he did hold up pretty well -- until about 18 months later when he started dying of cancer.

Now consider this: when the drugs were still experimental but not yet approved, how many stroke victims could have been saved? How many would have gladly accepted the high risk of dying if it meant a solid chance at recovery? Isn't that their choice? It's one thing if the doctors simply give potentially deadly medicine, but if the risks are completely, properly and sincerely presented to the patient, who is government to decide? Had my father suffered a stroke just a year or two prior to the "clot-busters" approval by the FDA, government would have told him, "You'll just have to die. We won't let you take this stuff, because it could kill you."

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