It's the very heart of the "Obamacare" health care debate. Does everyone in America deserve equal access to health care? Poor people? Kids? Rich people? Sick people? If you nodded at all of these, how about convicted child rapists, languishing in prison?
That made you pause, didn't it? Don't feel too badly, you're in good company. When residents of upstate New York found out Kenneth Pike, a prisoner convicted of raping a 12-year-old, was about to get a life-saving heart transplant, they freaked. Not because he was a child rapist in particular, but because saving the 55-year-old from imminent death would cost the state's taxpayers a whopping $800,000. Ouch. As a New York State taxpayer, that number hit me in the gut. But what really took the wind out of me was reading that Pike had caved to the pressure. He took himself off the transplant list. He's going to die.
And all because people want to save some money? OK, a lot of money. I get it. I live in a state that's in a shambles financially. In my small, rural community, people are losing their homes left and right because of the pressure of living in a state dubbed the "worst tax climate" in the nation. On a personal level, this is where my fiscal conservatism meets my social liberalism like two freight trains rushing at each other at high speed. Needless to say, I have whiplash.
I don't want to pay close to a million dollars for someone in prison, someone who raped a child. And yet, what I want and what is right are two different things. There were challenges that Pike's family should chip in, and yet, how is that fair? They aren't Pike, they aren't the ones responsible in the end for his well-being, he is. And yes, he screwed up royally. He did one of the worst things a person can do, and since 1996, he's been serving his 16- to 40-year sentence as a guest of the New York State Department of Corrections.
He's had no means to make money, no means to hold down a job to get his own health insurance. He put himself there, sure, but numerous court cases have proven that when the state takes on the responsibility of housing a prisoner, they take on the responsibility of providing for their basic human needs -- food, clothing, shelter, and health care. It's set up that way because the very point of incarceration is to take away an inmate's ability to go out and provide for himself for the sake of the general public. We, as taxpayers, pay for these sickos not for their sakes but for our own, because keeping them in prison is better for us and, in this case, for our kids than allowing them out to work, to earn, and to pay for their own health care.
The argument comes down to whether health care is a basic right. The anti-Obamacare folks will tell you it's not. But consider this: you ignore your child's heart condition because you can't afford to have it treated. You could take them to the doctor, throw yourself on the mercy of the system, and go into debt for it, but you don't want to. You have no money, and you're just going to let the cards fall where they may. Would that be right? Would that be humane?
Now substitute child for prisoner. Sure, one is innocent, one criminal. But they share the same markers -- unable to take care of themselves, stuck depending on the mercy of someone else. We, as taxpayers, we must be merciful, lest we become monsters ourselves. Kenneth Pike may have given the people of New York an easy out by taking himself off the list, but the people who pushed him there should be ashamed of themselves. They're no more "human" than him.
Do you think the taxpayers were right here?Should criminals be given top notch health care?
Image via Neal/Flickr