Volume 74, Number 47 | March 30 - April 05, 2005

Talking Point

I’m afraid it’s Congress that are the brain-dead ones

By Wickham Boyle

I believe the entire country is dying; and yet we are narrowly focused on one woman. I know more than half of America has missed the fact that we are slowly withering from lack of a centralized healthcare system, from a pathetic public school network, from an increasingly polluted environment and from inadequate assistance to the thousands of service people returning home limbless and jobless. And yet all weekend the Congress toiled, traveled and passed a bill to force a woman to continue living without any brain function.

In my most glib, acerbic moments I am drawn to write that perhaps Congress and our president feel strange stewardship for this woman because they themselves are on the verge of brainlessness. What are they thinking when they expend money for time and travel to actually pen a bill specifically to keep a woman alive through heroic measures when her guardian, her husband, vehemently wants to allow her to leave this world. And a host of courts have upheld this right?

I am in a rage over the concept that our highest lawmaking body can divert themselves with a week of investigating athletes and their drug use and then further take time, money and energy and enact a law that affects one single person.

I wish we lived in a country that really did have that kind of careful attention to the minutiae of its citizens, but instead this is hollow grandstanding at its worst. We are content that a huge percentage of our children have substandard educations. In this city alone the public schools, of which my children are products, are constrained for space, are contaminated with pollutants, lack enough books and have teachers who are underpaid and overworked. The statistics point to the correlation of inner-city school malfunctions and future crime, but Congress wants to save one woman in Florida.

Heathcare IS a national epidemic, but not just for an individual woman and her pained family. We are a rich country that has no national health plan. My family and I pay nearly $15,000 for insurance annually for the privilege of having a plan that will cover us partially, if, God forbid, a catastrophic illness befalls us. But if we need to see a doctor, a specialist, if we need glasses or a prescription, we pay. And we are the lucky ones who can afford to cough up a fortune for this shoddy coverage.

And then there are our seniors; my father is about to be 90 and neither his Medicare nor his insurance from NBC where he worked for 30 years will cover his care because he is not sick enough for a nursing home but not well enough to live home alone. His house had to be sold so he can see if he can get better enough — to what? Go home? No, because he has no home. He is a veteran, but unless he was injured in the Second World War so that he couldn’t function he is entitled to no benefits. This is an actionable shame.

But Terri Schiavo gets the full attention of the United States Congress; and even the president, who normally eschews national business in favor of his ranch, was persuaded to return to Washington, D.C., to sign this bill.

So we have a public education system that is at the bottom of the industrialized world’s list, a healthcare system that is ranked about the same, appalling care for veterans, both those like my aging father and our newest vets who return to low benefits, no jobs, with lost limbs and lost hope. But all we can focus our energies on is one woman who has been declared brain dead by many eminent medical professionals.

I want a bill passed to help my father.

I want a bill to give books to schools in Harlem.

I want healthcare to provide therapy to offset the horrors, both to body and soul that we endured after 9/11.

I want a public food program that ensures American children are not starving.

I want an environment that will still be grandiose and pristine for my grandchildren.

All you have to do is walk or ride a bike around this city and you can see injustices blooming on every corner in the spring air. Congress needs to see the big picture and give aid, assistance and attention to the masses who are still huddled and yearning to breathe free.

How can we divert time, energy and funds to the plight, imagined or real, of one woman when there is already a system in place to deal with that? Has Congress decided that because it cannot manage on a macro sense that it will micromanage? Are we serving their dwindling egos, serving them one small victory to stop them from feeling like the impotent, narrow-minded busybodies they have become?

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