Moral Malpractice | Sojourners

Moral Malpractice

America's health care system is in dire straits. Proper medical care has long been denied to the poor in this country, and now the middle class can't afford it either. Most proposed reforms would be mere Band-Aids unless the public--and especially the religious community--demands wholescale change.

Born prematurely to a 16-year-old mother who had received inadequate prenatal care, Lisa spent the first weeks of her life in a hospital intensive care unit. When she was finally sent home to her young mother's apartment in a Nashville housing project, Lisa still had breathing difficulties. Arrangements were made for her to sleep with an apnea monitor, a device that would sound an alarm if she stopped breathing.

One day, Lisa's mother answered a knock on her door to find a man standing there who was from the medical supply corporation that had furnished the apnea monitor. It turned out that he was the company's "repo" man whose job was to take back medical equipment from patients whose lease or installment purchase payments had fallen behind. The Medicaid program, which pays for health services for some of America's poor, had missed a payment on Lisa's monitor.

Lisa's mother pleaded with the repo man not to confiscate the apnea monitor. The device had already saved the child's life on several occasions, and the young mother was terrified. If she could just have some more time, she was sure that she could find out what the problem was and get Medicaid to resume its payments. But the repo man was firm, explaining that he had a job to do. The monitor was returned to the supply company.

Lisa's mother tried to stay awake, but of course could not do so indefinitely. That same night Lisa stopped breathing. By the time she reached the hospital, she was dead.

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Sojourners Magazine April 1992
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