Lazarus Syndrome

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Americans have been conditioned to value medical care more than it is worth. Medicine has become the new religion.

People believe that doctors can prolong lives, delay the normal aging processes, and make life better throughout. They have been sold on these superstitions by media hyping high-tech advances in medicine that may help only a tiny percentage of the general public. Americans ascribe the general prolonging of life spans to medical care, whereas the real reasons include public health measures against infectious diseases, better diets, and lessening of physical stress. Doctors thump the pulpit by talking gullible families into doing “what we can do” to keep Granny alive, when in actuality they officiously prolong Granny’s dying.

Europeans don’t read American catechisms. It may be that Europeans got “free medical care” at a time when medical care could do little to alter the course of illnesses. Comforting the dying and their relatives was what they expected from doctors a hundred years ago when many of these schemes were introduced. The modest accomplishments of their medical systems have not led Europeans to alter their creed.

But I agree with the Europeans. There are a few surgical procedures, such as appendectomy, that save lives. Many orthopedic procedures can make life more enjoyable. Occasionally an antibiotic or an antihypertensive helps. But frying the brains of Ted Kennedy and Robert Novak stretched their lives from 6 months to a year as steroidal zombies.

The Democratic proposals don’t do anything to make Americans reject salvation, so I suppose that the special interests will continue to prosper, and medical costs will climb. The Republicans ripped off some libertarian ideas that would force individuals to confront the cost-benefit calculus, but few of their politicians understand consumer-driven health care, and most would reject it if they did.

I don’t see anything in my lifetime curbing the American appetite for the marvelous.

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