Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Worth of a Man

How much is a human worth?
I’m talking dollars and cents.
Every year someone wastes time on a cutesy story about the breakdown of the chemicals that work together to create a person.  The current evaluation is around $4.50.
(Mine is most likely less than that when you take into account my usual and customary aches and pains.)
But like with any product you cannot merely it break down to its elements and expect a fair representation of total worth.
For example, how much does a brick cost?  They generally can be between $2 and $15 a piece.
And yet take a few thousand bricks and you can build a beautiful and unique “Brownstone” in Manhattan and sell it for millions!
So what about the building blocks of our bodies, how much are we really worth?
One place that is constantly called upon to figure that out is the courtroom.
When one of us dies as a result of an accident that might be caused by a company’s negligence attorneys get together to ply their trade.  They seek to place a value on a truncated life in order to compensate loved ones left behind as well as realize a hefty contingency fee in a ‘wrongful death’ lawsuit.
Naturally these numbers are contested by both sides as the residual potential lost in that human life is boiled down to dollars and cents.
But say we are still alive and we wish to know how much we are worth not just to our family but to society in general.
There is a fight that has been going on for at least 14 years in the medical device industry that seems to have a bearing on this issue.  A staple of hospital care has been found lacking in a critical safety measure.  The staple is the simple intravenous tube.
This prolific plastic straw that is routinely used to save a life can when used improperly just as easily take it away.  And when hospitals couple that double edged sword with practitioners on 24 hour shifts or longer the results can be deadly.
A few years ago a pregnant woman first lost her unborn child and then her own life when a nurse accidentally connected a feeding tube intended for her stomach directly to the intravenous line thus sending the deadly liquid into her bloodstream.
Many such errors have caused serious injuries and death over the years and no amount of careful good intentions will stop an unfortunate reoccurrence of such a mistake.
But in 1996 an incredibly simple fix to this age old problem was suggested.  Make intravenous tubes that have different functions incompatible with each other.
In other words a tube used to deliver plasma into the bloodstream will not fit into a bag intended for a different use!
What a great idea!
Disasters averted, everyone is happy!
Well not everyone.
The medical device industry did a quick ‘no-brainer’ type investigation and realized the fix while it would save lives would cost them money.  They mobilized their ‘lobby’ and effectively stalled any changes.
And that’s where we stand today, fifteen years later and counting.
Fifteen years of unnecessary loss of life.
Fifteen years of immoral increased profits.
Want to know the actual cost and reason for that delay?
The new tubes that would save lives cost $13 compared with the old possibly deadly ones at $1.50!
So our lives are not worth the increase of $11.50 according to the medical device industry especially since our broken down parts will only return $4.50.
This makes even less sense when you realize that the industry passes along their costs to the consumer/patient in the form of a thousand percent mark-up!  They could easily get away with charging $150 per inserted tube.
However you have to add the cost to retool the factory and make the different items and send out instructions and train people and make new packaging and oh it’s such hard work, I’m so tired…
Clearly health reform is not necessary in this country.  No oversight is needed to keep American citizens safe from mal-practicing practitioners.
The politicians who advocate repealing the heath reform bill that instead should be bolstered and restored to its original intent are clearly in the pockets of groups such as the medical device lobby.
Allowing impersonal corporations to determine life and death decisions anywhere is wrong but especially in the emergency room where people go as a last resort seeking life saving care.
When corporations decide that it is less costly to defend or pay out a few wrongful death verdicts than to correct the underlying defect causing those deaths government has no choice but to step in.
Hiring lobbyists to bury legislation - $10 million
Not having to retool a plant to save lives - $5 million
Saving that life by spending an additional $11.50 – Priceless!
I believe we’re worth it!


sumner said...

That reminds me of a story. My fathers friend 90+ had to return for surgery after repeated pains. An x-ray showed a scalpel in his stomach. Anyway he sued and won. It was rather obvious. What did he win? $4000. At his age his life wasn't worth much.

Cousin Bruce said...

I'm actually surprised the hospital didn't sue him or at least charge him for removing dangerous medical equipment from the place without authorization!