for release Friday April 16, 2004
by Melodie Davis
When You Can’t Help Everyone, Spread it Out
My favorite coffee/sub shop is closing (will be closed by the time you read this). Not only did they have great “fair trade” coffee (purchased directly from growers at a fair cost), but they were right in our office building. While the supply-your-own mug price of 99 cents a cup at first seemed high for my daily (decaffeinated) java, the owners allowed all day refills which I usually took advantage of once or twice during the day.
When they first moved in our building we joked that we could have pipelines flowing to our desks with fresh coffee at our fingertips. It was almost that easy.
I not only feel sad, I feel guilty about the shop closing. At least for one minute. Maybe I took too much advantage of their free refills. While I plunked down my daily dollar and frequently enjoyed a sub, salad, or bowl of soup, it obviously wasn’t enough to keep them in business. Could I have done something more to support them so they wouldn’t have had to sell the business? Maybe I should have treated myself more often, but I try to watch my dollars spent on lunches out.
Then I laugh at my guilt complex: obviously even if I would have purchased a complete combo lunch there every day, even if everyone in my office had, our meager dollars would not have been enough to keep them in business.
I had to think of this when I heard Dr. Allen Verhey, professor of religion and medical ethics at Hope College, Holland, Mich., talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan as told in the gospel of Luke. He noted that it was all well and good for the Good Samaritan to come to the assistance of the poor man who was robbed and left for dead at the side of the road. We laud the fact that the Good Samaritan didn’t make any excuses for not helping, like the priest and the Levite did in scurrying by on the other side of the road.
But what if, Verhey says, the Good Samaritan traveled the same road the next day and there were five men robbed and left for dead by the side of the road? Would he have been able to help—put them on his donkey one by one or two at a time? Perhaps they wouldn’t have all made it to the inn and perhaps the innkeeper wouldn’t have had beds for all of them. What if there had been 20 persons in need of care? What then? Would that have exhausted the Good Samaritan’s purse and capacity to help?
What happens to good intentions and ministries of mercy when they are tapped out?
As Dr. Verhey said, perhaps then we need to look at policy—why aren’t the roads to Jericho policed better? Where was the rescue squad, anyway? But the point he was making is that sometimes “policies” are needed in order to meet needs, specifically in our health care system. When there are systemic problems that are too big for a lot of good Samaritans, then there need to be ways to provide at least some level of care to all, rather than being primarily available to those who have insurance and can afford the care.
Verhey goes on, “The very success of medicine brings us to scarcity. Compassion has led to very costly care. We simply do not have the resources for medicine to do all it can do or all it wants for all who hurt.” Therefore someone ends up making choices about who gets what.
Now, some would say that in a free capitalist economy, access to medical care should go to those who can afford it or have the kinds of jobs where their company pays for it. Verhey argues that free market economy works when you are talking about access to cookies or cars, but not when it comes to things like police protection, education and medical care. Who would argue that police protection should go only to those communities that can afford it? No, we recognize that for the good of all, the policy provides for all (of course not always equally, but that is another matter.) In the same way, we need to start thinking about there being a range of health care available to all (like a basic high school education) and then certain levels of care at a cost (as with college and higher education. For complete text of Dr. Verhey’s speech, go to http://www.cccu.org/resourcecenter/resID.981,parentCatID./rc_detail.asp
The real problem for our soon-to-be defunct coffee/sub shop is the opposite of medical care: there are too many shops. Too much competition. It is a systemic problem. With coffee, it is okay to let the free market system decide that those with the best service, location, price and product survive. But with healthcare, that just isn’t fair or just.
What do you think? Send comments to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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