Canada's medical gulag

Paul Jacob

6/19/2005 12:00:00 AM - Paul Jacob

Canada is not a communist country. Really, it's not ? except when it comes to medical care.

While some Americans argue that our health care system should be copying Canada's single-payer national (read: government-controlled) health care system, a recent ruling by Canada's Supreme Court ought to cause some serious reconsideration. Deadly serious reconsideration.

Canada is the only industrialized country that actually prohibits citizens from privately contracting for medical care. In other words, no matter how much money Canadians can afford to pay, they're stuck in the public's health care system waiting and waiting and waiting for care.

Or, when they can afford it, giving up on waiting and traveling to the U.S. to get it.

How long are the waits?

In a case brought by Jacques Chaoulli, a Montreal family doctor, and George Zeliotis, a patient forced to wait a year to have his hip replaced, Canada's Supreme Court found that the evidence "shows that delays in the public health care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care."

The court thus concluded that Canada's invasive, idiotic and totalitarian prohibition of private health insurance and medical care ? of almost anything outside the government-run system ? is unconstitutional. The long waiting periods in the government system violated the "life and personal security, inviolability and freedom" of patients under Quebec's charter of human rights and freedoms. So ruled the court.

Yet, the court actually split ? three to three ? as to whether the killer waits of the nationalized health care system also violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So, at least for now, the ruling only applies in the province of Quebec.

Still, most experts seem to think this ruling will likely be expanded through lawsuits in the other provinces. Lorne Sossin, dean of the University of Toronto law school argues, "The language of the ruling will encourage more and more lawsuits and those suits have a greater likelihood of success in light of this ruling."

Leaders of the various provinces have long sought to allow health care alternatives, but they've found themselves with all the freedoms of a cat writhing in a sack. As The New York Times reported, "The federal government has threatened to hold back financial aid to provinces that press ahead with private health care. . . ."

But since Quebec, by court order, cannot prevent private medicine, the cat is now out of the bag. As Dr. Chaoulli pointedly asked, "How could you imagine that Quebeckers may live and the English Canadian has to die?"

Chaoulli, according the The Times, "has long been viewed as a gadfly in political and medical circles." In 1997, he went on a hunger strike after authorities forced him to abandon a private emergency house call service. (Wouldn't you like to find a family doctor with some of this gadfly stuff in him?) It seems that Canada's nationalized medical establishment has fought a long life-and-death battle against individual initiative in health care.

Enter Prime Minister Paul Martin. He sees the ruling, as well as the necessary response, quite differently. He's trying to re-bag that cat. Pooh-poohing the idea that Canada must permit private health care, Martin said, "What today's decision does do, however, is accentuate just how important it is to act immediately, how urgent this situation is."

Yet, what is his new urgency? To save lives? Or to save the system? After all, the unhealthy waits have been around for quite some time. It's not a secret. The only thing new is the court decision allowing private medicine.

The prime minister adds, "What we want to do is strengthen the public health care system."

But what about the sick? We can be sure that Mr. Martin doesn't want sick people to suffer or die. He is all for saving lives. It's just that his commitment to the national health care system comes first.

In this way, he sounds strikingly like so many American educrats, who, when shown for the umpteenth time that American schools are failing, still refuse even to consider allowing the children an alternative for their education. Instead, the educrats demand ever more money to make the public schools work, somehow, no matter how many children are failed in the process.

Granted, America's education system isn't totally parallel to the Canadian medical system. Thankfully, Americans can still spend their own money to purchase the education unavailable in the public system. But similar indeed is the attitude that puts the system before the people it is supposed to serve.

In emphatic arrogance, Martin asserted, "We are not going to have a two-tier health care system in this country. Nobody wants that."

Well, nobody except the people dying for lack of care . . . or almost any Canadian with a lick of sense.