A recent news story told of five teenage boys in Miami, ages 14-16, who failed to help a disabled person who was drowning. Instead, they watched, laughing, and took a video of him as he went under.
Every state has a Good Samaritan law, but these laws merely shield us from lawsuits if we do try to help; they do not require us to provide aid. Only a moral sense will do that, and in these four teenage boys, it was missing.
It may be that each boy had such a sense individually, but in the aggregate, they didn’t, as we recognize from reading other accounts of crowds failing to act when they’re watching someone is in distress and hearing pleas for help. When we’re among others, our individual responsibility fades in the hope that someone else will exercise it for us.
If you saw a child drowning, and no one else was around, you would probably stop to help, even if you were on your way to an interview for a job that was especially important to you.
For whatever reason, most of us would: The child is helpless and needs us; there is nobody else around to help. Or we imagine our own child in that situation. Or we know we’d feel good for having done it, or maybe get public acclimation that would help us with the job interview.
But suppose you learn of a child in another state who is dying because his parents can’t afford health insurance, or citizens of another country who are facing starvation or death by disease? These more-distant situations are easier for us to ignore, even though in the moral sense they’re same.
We all know stories of people saving members of other species, like the people in South Kitsap not long ago who rallied to save a horse mired in mud, and even of animal species saving a member of a completely different species, like a dog saving a drowning rabbit. If you’re cynical enough, you could argue that saving the horse is driven purely by the recognition that it has economic value. But the dog gains nothing by saving the rabbit, nor does the cat who alerts homeowners that the house is afire.
Whether such acts are purely altruistic or driven by desire for some personal benefit is irrelevant here. What is relevant is that they happen.
It isn’t too long a leap to see the Social Security program as an example. We sacrifice part of our paychecks because we know the sacrifice is helping others, and that in the future, such sacrifices by others will help us. What’s most noteworthy about Social Security is that it’s popular not just among the old but about the young, who sacrifice today even though they will enjoy no personal, tangible benefit until decades later.
When President Roosevelt signed the Social Security legislation in 1935, with the support of both parties, he said, “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
If for “poverty-ridden old age,” you substitute “high-to-catastrophic medical bills,” it might be easier to imagine that the Social Security model might work to provide every American with adequate health insurance that millions are lacking now.
That we aren’t doing what other advanced countries are doing to establish healthier societies is a shameful lack of moral responsibility to our fellow citizens, like the failure of the five boys who ignored their responsibility to the drowning man.
People who oppose universal health care reject their moral responsibility for others. They’re likely to cry “Socialism!” despite their readiness to support such socialist enterprises as our military services, our national guards, police departments, fire departments, postal services, or local, country, and state governments, all of which promote the common and make life better for the whole.
To call ourselves a great nation when we’re either blind or indifferent to the millions of our citizens without adequate health care is a symptom of moral insensitivity.
Published by Kitsap Sun.