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Lamm's lethal take on health care

"I think in a world of limited resources, we should spend more money on researching the cause of AIDS and how to prevent it than we should treating the people that are going to die anyway." That's what former Colorado governor and Reform Party nominee-wanna-be Richard Lamm told CBS's Face the Nation last week.

Bob Dole said he thought tobacco wasn't addictive for everyone, and it was a top story for days. Lamm, in effect, said there should be less treatment for children, homosexuals and others who are HIV positive, and it was barely noted.

Of course, part of the reason Lamm's comments haven't been aired more extensively is that he may not even be the nominee of the third party. But, also, this country has become complacent about the idea of cutting off care to sick people, old people and inconvenient people. Which is why Lamm can be considered a credible, even heroic, candidate _ despite his infamous 1984 quote that the elderly "have a duty to die and get out of the way."

Some hero. His comments about the need to cut and means-test entitlement programs are brave and refreshing, but his desire to cut off care for the sick is twisted.

Mark Sturdevant, vice chairman of the Reform Party and the gentleman who pushed Lamm to run, argued last week that in an era of "limited resources," the country has to start talking about limiting care and that Lamm isn't necessarily advocating pulling the plug on old folks. "We need to start talking about these issues," he said.

Sturdevant, 45, also gave this example: "If I had to choose between a 9-year-old getting a heart transplant or myself getting a heart transplant at 90, I would say, 'Take care of the 9-year-old first."'

Sturdevant mentioned that Lamm is not opposed to providing comfort for the AIDS-afflicted. And he pointed out that Lamm _ his "duty to die" remark notwithstanding _ is opposed to assisted suicide.

Let me go over some of these claims point by point.

First, it is utter nonsense to suggest that there is a benefit in "talking" about ending care for the sick.

Second, Lamm wants to do a lot more than just put the issue on the table. He has suggested actual limits on the number of new doctors, and he told Congress he supports other health care cuts.

Third, the touching saga about the 90-year-old Wilford Brimley-type saying no to a heart transplant is a joke. For one thing, it's not as if hospitals are giving heart transplants to 90-year-olds. For another, that mythical sacrifice would more likely go toward boosting the profits of a health maintenance organization than to the tow-haired kid.

Fourth, providing comfort to those with AIDS is not enough. The research of which Lamm apparently is so fond has allowed the medical community to prolong life for the HIV-positive. How can it be a waste to let people live because of it?

Fifth, I, too, oppose assisted suicide. But I don't see the virtue in opposing people's efforts to get others to kill them and then suggesting a bureaucracy that may kill them whether they like it or not. (It should be noted that this issue has nothing to do with the elderly or infirm refusing unwanted life-prolonging surgery. That's already common and legal and doesn't need Lamm to advocate it.)

In Newsday last year, Lamm praised a study that found that 69 percent of hospital stays in New York were "either medically unnecessary or could have been provided in an outpatient setting." In April, he told the House Ways and Means Committee that there are "60 percent too many hospital beds and 50 percent too many hospitals."

Think about it, cherished reader. If you haven't been hospitalized, chances are a loved one of yours has. Do you really want a president who believes the odds are better than even that the procedure, and even the bed, were a waste of "resources"?

Creators Syndicate