A Predictable Scandal with Socialized Medicine

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Anecdotes are generally unfair as markers of an entire system, but less so when they are in line with expectations.  Such is the case with Rupert Darwall’s Wall Street Journal commentary about fatalities in the British National Health Service (NHS).  Apparently, the latest scandalous report about parts of the system reveals one hospital’s “unlawful killing” of 650 patients and ensuing cover-up.

What makes this an indictment of the entire system is how precisely in line with the incentives of socialized medicine it is:

The report explains the almost identical dismissal of relatives’ concerns as a result of the “coincidence of interests” rather than conspiracy. When the state is a monopoly provider of health care, there is a political interest in suppressing bad news. In discussing whether to prosecute, one police officer noted the “perceived plight” of the NHS ahead of the 2001 general election. At a pivotal meeting of prosecutors closer to polling day, a government lawyer attacked Dr. Livesley and sabotaged the emerging prosecution case.

Proponents of socialized medicine condemn profit in health care, but a for-profit hospital does not have a financial interest in killing its patients. In the NHS, patients are a cost and troublesome ones can be put on a syringe driver, something a nurse told the police happened at Gosport.

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When our society shifts responsibility to government, it tends to focus on the possible up-sides and assume that everybody involved will make genuinely selfless decisions, but what we really ought to watch is the change in incentives.  Human beings find it all too easy to determine that something in their own interest is in the interest of everybody, by way of “the system” of which they are a part, even deceiving families while killing their loved ones.



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