September 24, 2009
The Medical Industrial Complex

Let’s hear it for the death panels, Lewis Lapham more or less says:

Like the military industrial complex, the medical industrial complex invites the practice of large-scale fraud, the hospital surcharges for an apple or an artificial limb comparable to the cost-overruns paid by the Pentagon for a cruise missile or a wrench. The “waste” and “inefficiency” in the system is its bone and marrow. Of the $304 billion appropriation levied by the seven richest pharmaceutical companies in 2007, $97 billion was allotted to marketing and sales promotion ($27 billion in the form of free meals and drug samples given to attentive physicians), another $76 billion to payroll (earnings worth $29 million to the Chief Executive of Johnson and Johnson, $25 million to the Chairman of Wyeth), lastly $40 billion (13% of the whole), to Research and Development…

Which isn’t to suggest that our doctors forswear the Hippocratic Oath, or that our politicians abandon hope of squeezing the pus out of the health care system. But where is the blessing to be found in the wish to live forever? A substantial fraction of the annual tithe collected by the medical industrial complex is the invoice ($528 billion) submitted to payees in the last, often wretched, years of their lives.

The corpses in waiting serve as sacrificial offerings placed on the altars of the god in the ATM. Plato thought it “shameful” to provide medical help “not for wounds or some seasonal illnesses” but because one “is filled with gases and phlegm, like a stagnant swamp…” Socrates in the dialogue with Glaucon strengthens the argument with the observation that it is wrong to prolong lives no longer “profitable either to themselves or anyone else.” Medicine, he says, isn’t intended for such people, “not even if they are richer than Midas.”


Posted by Jerome Doolittle at September 24, 2009 09:32 AM
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Posted by: Mike Goldman on September 24, 2009 12:44 PM
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