“Who would want to be a doctor if there was no money in it?”
This is the consistent shutdown I have encountered in all of my classes whenever I bring up the question of universal healthcare. I was not surprised when this proposition was used once again in one of my discussion sections. In the United States, every question always seems to find its answer in money.
Personally, I believe that a system where everyone is motivated by money leads to the abuse and mistreatment of those it serves. Healthcare, to me, is the epitome of this statement. I have known patients who have been prescribed unnecessary surgeries that would affect their quality of life, such as a hysterectomy, because there is monetary inducement for the medical professional to do surgeries. I’m not saying doctors should not be paid for their work, but rather that should not be the only reason why they enter medicine. I would not trust a friend whose only attraction to me was wealth, and so I do not trust medical professionals whose choice of career is only shaped by money. However, I believe our current medical system encourages greed while stifling the rise of other motivations.
This is why I was grateful when one of my classmates from Canada spoke up.
“In Canada, doctors have to go through the same schooling as the United States. We all have to pay taxes for healthcare. However, for us we view healthcare as a social obligation.”
I feel that in the U.S. the phrase “social obligation” has a negative connotation. Here, social obligation is seen as troublesome and restricting. People would never describe these feelings so bluntly, but I sense it when money flows into overseas bank accounts and loose change is denied a beggar because “he’ll probably spend it on alcohol.” People often say that American culture is one of individualism, but I increasingly feel that it is one of individual finances. We have been encouraged to feel that we are separate from a collective, that our communities do not contribute to our success, and to glorify our own strengths and desires. Being different and accepting yourself is different from becoming self-absorbed. It is this self-absorption that makes us resentful to see “our money” used for a cause outside ourselves, it is self-absorption that deadens our healthy sense of duty towards our fellow man. It is this self-absorption that makes jealously guard every cent in miserly paranoia.
That is not to say people in the US are wholly concerned with money. This has been disproven as people have been stirred up by feelings of empathy and justice as they have fought in battles for racial equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, etc. The number of people who have answered the call of these causes proves that in the United States people can be moved by feelings concerned with a higher good. This is why I am upset that money incentive is still used as the only arguments, as if it is the only way to motivate people into action. Such a belief has centered US policies and culture around a glorification of greed, referred to in euphemism as “incentive.”
This belief in monetary incentive and normalization of greed wrecks a havoc of hypocrisy in the lives of people who are otherwise motivated to do good. I have seen this in my own communities, especially in my Christian community. I have known people who believe that we should limit opportunities, such as healthcare and education, for fear of people “abusing the system.” They believe this while also professing their faith in a God who continually offers limitless opportunities despite mankind’s abuses against him. I have known people who resent every cent of their hard earned money taken in taxes as they fear it will benefit someone “unworthy.” They believe this while willingly paying 10% of their income in tithes, much of which are used for administering to those who are termed “unworthy.” Even to those who are not religious, this dichotomy might seem confusing. It is odd that the very same community that I have seen achieve great acts of service towards others (without monetary enticement) can have so little faith that others are capable of good.
This is a trend I’ve seen in the general spheres of the public, a trend I’ve seen myself affected by. I am saddened that in the United States, a country founded on ideals, we have become jaded and cynical about the very people we wish to uphold those ideals. The fact that we continue to expect people to only be incentivised by money (thereby appealing to greed, the least noble of human emotions) shows we have no trust in our own citizens, no trust in humanity. I’m not saying it is unwise to view issues with a critical eye, but if we wish to move past our current issues we have to move past our current culture of mistrust. We have to trust our people and see them as more than wage laborers motivated only by cash: as human beings with a broad range of emotions that we can appeal to.
Contact Sophia Kim-O’Sullivan at huali99 ‘at’ stanford.edu