Connecting with Health Care

I often return to Lanier Johnson’s comment in Red Clay, Blood River that “Connection is the name of the ecological game.” (p. 32) The angry debates over reforming our health care system are another key in which to play this theme. Our bodies are the very basis of our existence in relationship with a wider world.

Our health — our wholeness — is bound up with the wholeness of our relationship with the earth that gives us birth, sustains us, and receives us back at our end. When our relationship with our whole ecology – our oikos, our home – is disrupted, we fall into disease. Witness the growth in obesity and eating disturbances, as well as diseases caused by the pesticides, herbicides, and carcinogens we have produced.

While all these disruptions of our relation to the wider oikos underlie the inordinate costs of our health system and our own relatively poor health as a nation, it is our lack of an adequate sense of connection to our fellow humans in the United States that keeps us from developing an ethically defensible health care system.

The claims to defend individual freedom from “government intervention” are only one way we seek to deny the connections we have with each other, not merely as citizens within a unifying political order, but as fellow creatures on and with this earth.

This refusal to acknowledge our connection to each other and this earth are played out in our racial divisions (how strange that this issue has catalyzed a resurgence of thinly-veiled racism), our ethnic enmities (as in attacks on health care for illegal immigrants), and our class disparities.

It is a hopeful sign that the insurance industry’s exploitation of these divisions as they appear in unemployment, poverty, healthiness, and longevity might be curtailed in any of the reform measures presently on the table. But until we acknowledge and treasure our connections to each other and this earth, Americans will not take giant strides toward including all of us in a single basket of care.

T. R. Reid, in his recent book, The Healing of America, finds that health care varies from country to country according to a nation’s moral culture, much of which involves its sense of mutual moral obligation and solidarity. The United States, in this sense, has the lowest sense of mutuality and connection, hence the most dysfunctional health care system.

In touting our freedom and individual rights we are the most in bondage to alienation from our bodies, each other, and this earth. How to change this culture of disconnection is an even greater challenge than the nuts and bolts of insurance and medical delivery.

Your thoughts and suggestions are most appreciated!