In re: The Economics of Compassion

Often times it is easy to turn to economic theories, to make difficult decisions, which have very real ethical problems related to them. This can be seen in the Roe v. Wade section of Freakonomics I mentioned before, but today I am talking about an interesting article I read on Slate, called “Do the Poor Deserve Life Support?” (read here) The article discusses the uproar over the removal from ventilation of a terminally ill cancer patient in Texas, after her family was unable to pay. The uproar focused on essentially that someones life was essentially ended to their financial situation, which when phrased in that manner does sound horrendous . However, as with many situations it can be rephrased and this where an economic analysis might be more useful. The article questions what someone who is poor would choose to do with $75 dollars earlier in their life, spending it on food rather then ventilator insurance is his likely diagnosis. The other argument that is easy to make is of course that the cost of keeping a terminally ill patient alive for a few more days could be used more effectively. These decisions are hard to make of course, and economic theories may make it easier to dodge such issues. If we are ever to have a right of health care, what does that entail, and does it mean that we will need to provide costly health care such as this.

An interesting aside though is why didn’t this cause an uproar on the right-to life conservative side. Apparently the fact they could pull the plug in Texas was due to a law passed by G.W., but unlike Shivao, here a concious patient was allowed to die. This was brought up in a blog post, which brought race into the mix.


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