Sharon Begley wrote and interesting article on American health care in the March 31, 2008 issue of Newsweek (page 47). I’m helping myself to her research, so the statistics I’ll be presenting are from her article.
One way to measure the ethics of a nation is to see how it treats those who are helpless and weak. Among the most helpless are children and the unborn. Interestingly, we have had a pro-life President since 2000 and Congress was, until recently, controlled by the pro-life Republican party. Because of this, one would expect that America would be very pro-life in terms of making sure that the unborn survived to be born and then to grow up. Sadly, America is doing a poor job in this regard. Currently, the United States averages 7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. This places us in the number 28 position world wide. One can only imagine how bad things would have been if America had not had such a clear devotion to being pro-life.
The main causes for this relatively high mortality rate seems to be due to the usual causes. First, there are the socioeconomic factors. Those who are poor and uninsured do not have access to high quality medical care during the pregnancy and the birth. Also, being poor means that they are less able to have proper nutrition. Second, there are the matters of choice (or in some cases chance). Some mothers engage in behavior that is harmful to themselves and their potential children-smoking, drug use, and other poor health practices. There is also the factor of teen pregnancy which tends to result in more complications than when the mother is fully grown.
Obviously, the government cannot and should not regulate people to the degree that would be required to ensure that all mothers (or potential mothers) behaved in healthy, rational ways. However, people should (obviously enough) be more responsible for their own well being-especially when the well being of another depends on them. While it is true that a woman’s (or girl’s) body is her own, that does not remove the moral responsibility she has to herself and to her potential child. After all, a person can wrong herself. While a person does have special rights in regards to herself, this does not entail that a person has the moral right to do anything she wants to herself. The same, of course, applies to men. This, of course, assumes that there are things that it is wrong to do to a person and that the wrongness of some of these things do not depend on who is doing what to whom.
As such, we should do what we can as individuals to help lower infant mortality. One way to do this is to encourage healthy behavior in others and help provide the means, perhaps by donating to responsible charities, to people who lack the resources on their own. If you happen to be pregnant, you should take the steps needed to be healthy. Of course, all this is easy to say.
In addition to individual efforts, collective efforts are also in order. Charitable organizations are one place to begin. The next step up would be, of course, to involve the government. As I see it, the government can help in two main ways. One way is by providing information so people have a better idea about what they should be doing. This is already being done in many cases. The second is to make the pro-life rhetoric a reality and take positive steps to reducing infant mortality. This would involve providing health care support to pregnant women if they lack the means to provide for themselves. In addition to being an issue of social justice, it is also a moral issue.
It is tempting to say that women who lack the means to take care of their pregnancy should not get pregnant. In some cases, this view has some merit-being a person is not just a matter of having rights and privileges. It is also a matter of having duties and responsibilities. Among these responsibilities are being aware of the consequences of ones actions and ensuring that one is able to handle those consequences in a responsible manner. Of course, the reality is that many people are simply not up to the challenge of acting in that manner. There is also the matter of chance-events in life can overwhelm even a responsible person and the rest of us should be willing to help.
Even if a person is unwilling to help the mother because of a moral view, there is still the obvious moral concern about the potential child. Even if the mother was fully responsible for being unable to provide for adequate pre-natal care, the child is not responsible. To let a child suffer or die because of that would be morally unacceptable. It would be on par with refusing to treat children hurt in an automobile accident because their parents were driving drunk.
One concern is that such health care would be expensive. However, it would be hard to imagine anyone who is pro-life arguing that children should be allowed to die so as to save some money. In any case, it would then be a matter of value-do we value children or money more?
Another concern is that some might claim that such government support would encourage poor people to have more children and thus it would simply expand the problem as these kids would probably grow up to be poor and produce even more children and so on.
It is not obvious that such programs would have this effect. After all, as long as the programs provide care and not a cash reward for having kids, there would be no great incentive to go through a pregnancy for such a small advantage. Of course, this objection mainly serves to point out yet another problem-namely that of the cycle of poverty.
In any case, having such a needlessly high infant mortality rate is not morally acceptable. It is a problem that can be solved and should be solved.