Humanity at its very core is, as Niccolo Machiavelli put it, a species concerned only with the concept of war, the ebb and flow of battle. The French philosopher Albert Camus saw it similarly: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”
This succinct yet profound statement lays bare the shortcomings of all mankind and at the same time prescribes the antidote for its affliction. The budget negotiations in Washington and the debate over the Affordable Care Act are prime examples of the destruction Camus and Machiavelli were referring to.
It is fascinating to note that in all the give and take (which resembles more a schoolyard fight then civilized debate), one key word is never discussed. That word is ethics.
Ethics are the rules and sentiments and ideas that give us a framework in which to act. It is the ethics of our actions and of our very beings that give us the authority to act on the behalf of others. The Constitution, written by our Founding Fathers, made clear that the purpose of this government was to act in accordance not just with specific laws set forth but with the morals and ideas that give those laws their validity. Lost in this discussion of dollars and cents and partisan bickering is any focus on the reasons that originally led us to empower the government to act on our collective behalf.
President Obama proposed a law a few years ago that has since made it through all three branches of government and a presidential election. Whether or not you agree with the principle of universal health care, it is impressive that there is one person who believes in the power of ideals.
The president believes it is the duty of this country to uphold the words of the Constitution: “We the people…promote the general welfare.” It was an ethical decision to choose not to ignore those hallowed words written so long ago. Ethics, which give us the right to live and the right to liberty, need to be upheld at all costs. The squabbling in the playground that is the U.S. Capitol building only sullies what should be celebrated as an achievement of great proportions.
If the Republicans detest the idea that people less fortunate than themselves should be denied the ability to receive health care, they should stand up and say so. If Tea Party activists believe they have the mandate of the American people behind them, then I ask, why did they lose the presidential election?
Republicans have chosen to make a stand opposing something that many if not most Americans support very strongly – when the insurance exchanges that are a central part of the Affordable Care Act went online last week, the systems were so inundated with users that they were not able to keep up with the volume.
What the Republican and Tea parties have to recognize is that despite the validity to many of the arguments they make and the principles they support, they are missing the fundamental value that Americans prize over all else: ethics.
The values and strictures we subscribe to, be they secular or religious, have always been an issue of contention in this country. Yet no set of guiding principles has ever advocated the dismissal of the constitutional philosophy and innate human morality of providing for the greater common good. Society is duty-bound, as a whole, to ensure the survival of the entire unit.
If, as a society, we cut off our nose to spite our face in the interest of saving a few dollars, then what have we truly accomplished in the aggregate? Have we really become the leaders of the world, the face of freedom, if we cannot as a community support each other? Have we forgotten the humble beginnings of this country in the face of personal greed? I am not a congressman or a civil servant and I greatly respect those who have given their lives to the service of this country, but it is appalling that we have sent men and women to represent us who have turned the government into a place for ideological posturing.
It is time for Congress to end this petty stand on ceremony and to reopen a government capable of making decisions with the interests of the greatness of our free society at heart.
About the Author: Kalman Laufer is president of Yeshiva University’s Student Medical Ethics Society (MES). MES will present their Eight Annual Fuld Family Conference titled, “Prescribing for a Nation: Examining the Interplay of Jewish law and Israeli Health Care” on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. To learn more or to register, visit www.yumedicalethics.com.
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