Will movie ‘Sicko’ advance the reform debate?
Published July 31, 2007
My wife Daralyn accompanied me to see the much-argued-about movie, “Sicko.” Our conversation on the way home:
H: Well, I guess that one slam at Moore was not really justified.
D: What was that?
H: Some beat him up for implying that the Cuban health care system was so much better than the U.S. system. But that was not his intent at all. He had just finished showing us very starkly some of the superior features of health care in Canada, England and France. Moore, always keen on irony, started out with the fact that some 9/11 first responders had serious health issues and could not get care for them in the United States. On hearing how good the health care reportedly was at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay for the al-Qaida terrorist suspects, he hired some boats to take these American patients there to demand similar care from the U.S. government. Naturally they were turned away; and so purportedly they then found themselves in Cuba with nowhere else to turn. The point seemed to be that at least the Cubans were willing to reach out to these needy Americans and do what they could for them, when their own government had turned its back.
D: I think one of the most powerful aspects of the movie was showing the day-to-day quality of care in the health systems that we Americans hear labeled as “socialized medicine.” I think any fair-minded people watching the movie would have agreed that they would be quite pleased to receive the sort of care that was shown. Yet we somehow allow ourselves to be told that “socialized medicine” is the worst sort of disaster the world has ever known, and that if it ever happened to us, it would be terrible. Who tells us this stuff, and why do we believe it?
H: For me, one of the most telling things about the press coverage of this movie is that Moore is depicted as some sort of fire-breathing radical because he clearly favors universal health care paid for by government taxes. So you go to see this movie expecting Moore to be on a rampage tearing everything down. Instead, he presents himself as an idealist. The whole message of the movie seems to be — given that Americans are basically decent and caring people and often go to great lengths to help out their neighbors — how did we ever get to the point that we decided that the measure of our nation would be whether we could each of us take personal responsibility for ourselves — no matter how much suffering resulted? Why could we not join the rest of the world in saying that the measure of our worth and decency as a nation is our willingness to help out each other in need, out of the conviction that they’d do the same for us? Moore shows us that it’s the answer to that question that is stopping us from fixing health care in the United States — not any argument about the technicalities or the economics of health systems reform.
Dr. Howard Brody, a family physician, is director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at UTMB.