(Hi guys! So I originally had the second installment in our Can We Talk: Family Health History series scheduled for this week. However, with the healthcare bill on the Congressional floor again, this post seemed like a better fit this time. We will be back to our regular scheduled programing next week! If you missed Part One in the Family Health History Series, check it out here.)
Have ya’ll ever noticed that Pokemon have better healthcare than their trainers? Think about it. Let’s say you have a Squirtle and it has an unfortunate encounter with a Pikachu’s thunderbolt. All you have to do is take it to your local Pokemon Center, give your Pokeball to Nurse Joy, and poof – all better. No copay, no being turned away. Now if you happen to get hit with a thunderbolt – I don’t know where you going. There apparently ain’t that many human hospitals in the Pokemon universe.
Wanna guess what’s even more shameful than the fact that the Pokemon have better health insurance than their underaged, wandering trainers ? The fact that the Pokemon universe has taken more responsibility for a potential Pokemon health crisis than the United States of America has for the Flint Crisis.
Flint still doesn’t clean have water. Now I want be realistic – the Flint Crisis is an infrastructural crisis. That means that it is going to take time to fix. We aren’t just talking about bad water. We are talking about bad water and bad pipes for an entire city. That doesn’t even address the financial implications of having to essentially re-plum a whole city. It’s going to take a decade at minimum to get Flint back to a fragment of where they used to be. And that’s assuming that the infrastructural repair is done efficiently and properly the first time. Regardless, this whole incident is ethically problematic for some key reasons.
This is problematic from a historical perspective. People of color have had and have very rough experiences with healthcare. The Tuskegee Syphillis Experiments (1932-1972), Henrietta Lacks’ stolen cells (1951-present), and Johns Hopkins Lead Paint study are just a few offenses (early 1990s). These incidents do not even address the general issues of access, institutional disregard, and health disparities among people of color. Due to the institutional irresponsibility and disregard for the citizens of Flint, Michigan, this incident has become another bioethical crisis where people of color were exploited. The health implications of this crisis are long term. This can’t be blamed on poor health practices or an unwillingness to seek medical attention. These are the incidents that prove the fears of people of color right. They show that the government disregarded their need for life’s most basic necessity and that the “system” is not trustworthy. In fact, this incident mirrors the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiments. If a group of people cannot trust the infrastructure of their community, its a recipe for chaos.
This is also problematic because of the general health implications. Flint’s water supply was taken from the Flint River. Not only was the water inherently corrosive to metal (much less to the human body), but corrosion control was not used to mitigate the issue. The citizens of Flint have essentially been poisoned. Lead poisoning is harmful to anyone, but is especially detrimental to children. Small amounts of lead poisoning can lead to lowered intelligence quotients and struggles in school. Larger amounts of lead poisoning can cause convulsions, coma, or even death. Across the board, anemia, hypertension, renal handicaps, and other permanent conditions result from lead poisoning. Here is a quote from the World Health Organization for perspective –
“The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has estimated that in 2013 lead exposure accounted for 853 000 deaths due to long-term effects on health, with the highest burden in low and middle income countries. IHME also estimated that lead exposure accounted for 9.3% of the global burden of idiopathic intellectual disability, 4% of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease and 6.6% of the global burden of stroke.”
Lastly – the federal government has not taken on the responsibility of remedying the long term effects of this health crisis. The Trump Administration has the goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Paul Ryan’s personal proposed health care plan is problematic because it takes the approach of preventability. Five chronic illnesses – heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes – are the focus of his health care plan and are listed as preventable. He suggests that if we take a preventable approach there will be no need for government spending to aid these illnesses. However, a group of people were placed in a situation where these two of these “preventable” issues were well – not prevented. There is no financial provision to account for those who were placed at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke due to the Flint crisis. Even with the new American Health Care Act on the floor – this is the perspective of our congressional leaders. This is not just about fixing the water and pipes. There has to be a plan in place to accommodate for the long term healthcare the residents of Flint will need. A generation of people will have chronic conditions for the rest of their lives for reasons that were no fault of their own. The federal government cannot ignore that.
The reality is that the Flint Crisis is a bioethical crisis. A group of people were inserted into a health system that was not only not designed for them, but also for health issues that they did not bring upon themselves. They will potentially have chronic issues for the rest of their lives. If the federal government doesn’t validate this health care crisis, they will feed into a greater systemic issue. Validation is not just about money either. It will require compassion and empathy because most of us will never experience a crisis like this. It will require stepping into someone else’s shoes. This was a traumatic experience – call it and treat it like what it is. I would like to believe that my country’s public health agenda isn’t being shown up by a Japanese children’s anime about pocket monsters – but stranger things have happened.
Hoping for a better day,
The Neighborhood Bioethicist
A Simple Guide to Flint’s water crisis – Flint’s Water Crisis Explained in 3 GIFs