The Moment of Truth — September 19, 1998

How the Poor are Denied Health Care

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen, and welcome to the Moment of Truth. The one broadcasting moment when the truth isn’t stomped into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp by the iron boot of capitalism.

Well, Henry Hyde is in the news. Henry Hyde, the man who tried to ban abortions for poor women with his notorious Hyde Amendment. Rich people, okay; poor people, no no no.

Of course he’s not alone in discriminating against poor people regarding health and reproductive care. Since even before capitalism, even before the extreme capitalism of today, one of the hallmarks of poverty has been a proximity to disease, an intimacy with illness and death. The liberation theologian and Peruvian bishop Gustavo Guitierrez defines poverty as a special relationship with death. A closer relationship. An intimate relationship. A vulnerability to violence, oppression, disease, deprivation and death that the privileged of society have no direct experience of.

Here’s an interesting way the system cleverly screws the poor. Advertising for and access to cigarettes are hugely higher in poor urban neighborhoods than in affluent neighborhoods where they are often nonexistent. Carcinogens are exponentially more likely to be dumped, buried, or spewed out as gases in poor areas than in wealthy ones. So we’re giving poor people cancer at an astronomically higher rate than the rest of society.

But if they qualify for Medicaid, they can get chemotherapy.

Great. One major problem with chemo, though, is it makes you sterile. Most people with health insurance usually deal with this by freezing some of their reproductive material for use later on in case they want to have kids. Except Medicaid doesn’t pay for poor people to do that. If a person on Medicaid gets chemo, they can pretty much call it quits as far as having kids is concerned.

So isn’t the government, through both action and inaction, sterilizing the poor? Isn’t our society sterilizing poor people with its policies regarding the relationship between poor people and cancer? Yep.

So Henry Hyde is just one among many causes of the suffering of the poor. It would be nice if politicians had to take a vow that went something like: "I solemnly swear never to be a legislative, judicial, or executive cause of suffering to the poor." Or if there were a constitutional amendment that said, "No agency of government shall, either through action or inaction, be a cause of suffering to the poor." Better yet, "No agency of government, whether through action or inaction, shall cause any human being to enter into that special relationship with death known as poverty." That would make it unconstitutional for people to have to do without access to health care – the health care system as it stands would be unconstitutional. It would be against the constitution to allow corporations to withhold food or medicine from someone just because of his or her economic status. Communities would be constitutionally required to provide public facilities for hygiene, shelter and education and would be banned from denying access to these facilities to the homeless. It would be unconstitutional to imprison people of a particular economic class in numbers way out of proportion to the percentage they make up of the general population. Our entire way of dealing with crime among poor people – which certainly can’t be called a success by the stretch of anyone’s imagination – would have to be completely changed.

In short, it would be a very different world. In fact, for me to be proposing any of this crap at this time in history, under extreme capitalism, in the current social climate of hatred and blame and lack of compassion directed at the poor – for me to be talking about banning poverty while living under an economic system that requires poverty for its very existence, under an economic system wherein the stock market goes down when poor people are given a living wage – for me to sit here fantasizing about a society which would operate with compassion vis-a-vis the poor – it’s simply madness at this historical moment.

And yet we’re also living in a historical moment where the exact same people who would gladly support legislation such as the Hyde amendment go around saying, "What would Jesus do?" Have you heard this? It’s the new Zeitgeist: What would Jesus do? It seems to be directed mainly at teenagers. Your friends offer you a joint of mary-jew-wanna reefer? What would Jesus do? You and your teenage sweetie are talking about maybe having sex? WWJD? What would Jesus do? You’ll notice that the picture this paints of Jesus is that of a straightlaced, clean-cut, prudish all American kid. A kind of Richie Cunningham type of guy, except more uptight.

Now I know a lot of people say this – and I know that, seeing as how I’m a Jew people are probably gonna think I’m lying – but I know Jesus. And Jesus is not some extra uptight Richie Cunningham. No. The Jesus I know is a guy who hangs out with slaves and lepers and hookers and hardboiled waterfront types, promoting a radical compassion, a kind of compassion that challenges business as usual. Oh yes, he said, "The poor you will always have with you," but it’s a bit debatable what he meant by that. He certainly didn’t mean, though, that we are to abuse the poor. I don’t think anyone would argue that he meant to suggest that we make things as bad as possible for the poor.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesus is against poverty. Poverty is a special relationship with death, and Jesus is against death. Death exists because of man’s disobedience to God. God didn’t want it. If Jesus and God are related in any way, Jesus is against poverty. Jesus is against policies and actions that force people into a more intimate relationship with death.

So next time you’re thinking of passing legislation that would single out poor people to be denied access to health care –- or you’re considering taking more of the burden of paying for the social infrastructure off of the large corporations and shifting it onto the backs of the working poor – or you’re planning to give your CEO a huge stock option package while paying your workers less than a living wage – or you’re beginning yet another day of lobbying for the building of more prisons – or you’re fighting against a legal judgment demanding that you clean up a toxic mess on an Indian reservation – or you find yourself trying to get a city to fund your plan to pave over a neighborhood and build yourself a sports facility – or you’re poking with your nightstick at a man asleep on the street, trying to wake him up so you can order him to move along – or you’re about to sentence someone to prison – or you’re about to turn off someone’s utilities – or you’re ready to fire a lot of workers in order to raise the price of your company’s stock – or you’re operating a sweatshop – or you’re about to give a prisoner a lethal injection – or you’re about to order the kidnapping and murder of a union organizer – or you’re doing business in a country partly because their government orders the kidnapping and murder of union organizers – just think to yourself: What would Jesus do?

He’d probably puke. Until next time, I’m meJeffDorchen with the Moment of Truth.