17 December 2012

Needless suffering

I attended a talk by Dr. Howard Koh, the current Assistant Secretary for Health. While practicing as a physician, he encountered too much of what he called "needless suffering." He gave as an example a young father whose potentially-treatable cancer had been diagnosed too late, because he lacked health insurance. Dr. Koh decide that he ought to enter public health and policy, so that he could improve the way health care is delivered and help many lives.

Many of our country's children suffer needlessly, whether from violence, from poverty, from abuse, from preventable diseases, from motor vehicle accidents, from broken schools, from obesity, from broken homes, from lack of opportunity, and on and on. I say "needlessly" because many of these problems could be at least partly fixed, if only we made doing so more of a priority.

And yet we are reversing past gains. The life expectancy for certain segments of our population has been dropping over the past years. For example, the life expectancy of white women without a high school diploma was 5 years less in 2008 than it was in 1990. We are needlessly losing ground.

Our country has united in mourning the 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT whose lives were cut short. Our profound feeling of loss ought to remind us that life is precious, and that one of our highest callings is to love our fellow man and protect our youngest. I hope that their memory will compel us to alleviate that suffering which needlessly afflicts those among us. Our work is cut out for us.