Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Medicine's Mirage

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Medicine's Mirage

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: Conservatives, Liberals, and Medical Progress" by Daniel Callahan, in The New Atlantis, Fall 2005.

REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THE health care system is market-dominated, as in the United States, or government-financed, as in Canada and Western Europe, expenditures keep increasing faster than the rate of inflation, with only small health gains the result. That suggests that both conservatives and liberals err in thinking that there's an organizational fix for rising costs, argues Daniel Callahan, cofounder of the Hastings Center, a bio-ethics think tank. It's time to look at a deeper cause: society's war against death.

Economists calculate that "progress-driven technological innovation'--both the development of new technologies and the intensified use of older ones--is responsible for up to half of the annual increase in health care expenses. Certain drugs to treat colorectal cancer, for example, can cost up to $161,000 for a 12-week course of treatments, yet the gain can be as little as seven additional months of survival. Society is rightly reluctant to say such added months of life "aren't worth it," Callahan acknowledges. But the dollars spent on "expensive medications at the end of life" could be spent instead on "other goods and obligations, including the obligation to provide basic medical care to the poor."

New attitudes toward death can be seen in the rise of the palliative care movement, which emphasizes giving comfort to the dying and relieving their suffering, fostering an acceptance of death. …

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