Saturday night at the movies: is SiCKO about Christianized medicine?

(system) #1

Since SiCKO is now out on DVD no Adventist has to risk angel-abandonment to engage this film.

By Heather Isaacs Royce, a hospice chaplain in Napa, CA.

Documentary. 113 min. PG-13. Now available on DVD.

The ever present good-girl, eldest child in me reeled in horror as I watched Michael Moore’s latest film SiCKO. Important lessons my parents taught me (and I have dutifully followed) about taking responsible care of one’s self—including working a “good job” where your health insurance needs will be met—were undone frame by frame by Moore’s clever and troubling examination of the American health care system. Because, as Moore states in the first five minutes of the film, this is not a movie about the sizable population in the United States who are not insured; this is a movie about people like me who are. Adding to my sense of discomfort, I walked away from the film wondering about my profound ignorance on the state of health care in my own country—never mind the health care systems of other countries. What made bearable the unsettling experience of having my assumptions tested and my ignorance probed was the realization that I am not alone in either case. Apparently, on this issue at least, I am a fairly normal citizen of the United States; that is, I have been grossly uninformed about the state of our health care system. Or, even worse, misinformed.

Moore’s approach in SiCKO is to build his argument for universal health care by linking together stories of personal loss and tragedy resulting from an irreparably broken, even corrupted, American health care system; juxtaposing those stories against an alternative vision of health care being lived out in other countries: Canada, Britain, France, and, most surprising of all, Cuba; and positing systemic change by appealing to the greatest common denominator: a deep regard for human life and dignity that transcends political affiliations and defines American ideals.

The success of Moore’s film is that he manages to keep the human dimension of the health care plight in full view while exposing the terrible brokenness of the American system itself. He could have easily fallen in the direction of making a maudlin tear-jerker of a film or, in the other direction, a spewing cauldron of angry polemic. But the balance he achieves between heart and head results in a compelling argument grounded in personal and political realities. Even my husband, who somewhat reluctantly joined me in seeing the film given his historical distaste for Moore’s insinuating, rhetorical style, was compelled by the sense of truth-telling that characterizes SiCKO.

Smartly, Moore anticipates the questions and concerns that are frequently raised in a discussion of universal health care. The scary world of “socialized medicine” is made a little friendlier with a playful musical aside pointing out that libraries, public schools, firefighters and police are funded by taxes much in the same way as universal health care would be. And the commonly held belief that universal health care compromises the quality and availability of medical treatment is dispelled with evidence to the contrary in cinematic trips to emergency rooms, hospital corridors, and home calls in countries where universal health care is a fact of life. Witnessing the happy and healthy faces of the beneficiaries of these foreign health care systems provided a stark contrast to the litany of horrors voiced from our own: a mother recounts the death of her young daughter after a battle to obtain emergency treatment at a hospital not covered by her insurance provider, a wife mourns the death of her husband after he was denied a life-saving treatment because it was deemed “experimental” by their insurance company, a former medical director at an insurance company confesses her role in denying medically appropriate care to patients for the purpose of saving money and competing for a bonus, a surveillance camera records an ill and disoriented woman in a hospital gown being dumped by taxi at the curb of a shelter because there is no room for her at the hospital.

These and other stories evoked feelings of disbelief and outrage as I began to consider how my country, the wealthiest nation in the world, could allow—even create—these injustices when other countries of supposedly lesser means are able to meet the health care needs of their citizens. And I was humbled as I watched 9/11 rescue workers with serious and chronic health care issues receive free, competent, and humane treatment in Cuba. The cognitive dissonance I experienced was palpable: How could this be Cuba? You mean, a third-world country led by a dictator is able to provide inexpensive, quality health care to its people and my own country can’t? Seeing this reversal of roles, the strong becoming the vulnerable, the enemy becoming the friend evoked a sense of hope and compassion that I would best describe as a movement of the Spirit.

And if SiCKO convinced me of anything it is this: our crisis of health care is not only a political issue, it is a spiritual one. Perhaps if Americans began to engage in the health care debate with this truth in mind, the necessary political corrections would follow. Other countries have already taken the lead in aligning universally shared spiritual values of compassion and human dignity with political will and action. One Canadian woman interviewed by Moore in a hospital emergency room reflected on the health care system of her country, saying, “it’s a fabulous system to make sure the least of us and the best of us are taken care of.” In this and other statements in the film, it is hard not to hear echoes of Matthew 25 where Jesus’ definition of righteousness is to simply serve the “least of these.” But as Moore points out, it is not simply the “least” of us who are in need; where health care in America is concerned, most of us are in need.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Elaine Nelson) #2

Until they need health care for a serious condition, young people are largely oblivious to the convoluted healthcare system in the U.S. It is almost unbelievable that the wealthiest nation in the world has the poorest healthcare system than all the other civilized nations take for granted.

There is no reason that a universal system much like Medicare is impossible–except for the political obstructionists who were so adamantly opposed to the Affordable Care Act which has enabled millions to be enrolled in healthcare who were ineligible before.

Michael Moore has a gift of focusing on the problems that others will not tackle.

Thanks Heather for your excellent article.

(Ikswezdyr) #3

I don’t know how old this blog is, but it misses some points. It would seem to me that any national health care program should first work to clean up the broken system before they start financing it.

There are many things wrong in the American system such as failure to negotiate prices from corporations who provide everything from medication to machines. There are no standard prices or care from place to place. Medical fraud of government programs is enormous. There is no widespread preventive care.

Other countries using national insurance are small nations, compared to the US. They are each about the size of one of our states. Perhaps with each state setting up its own program, we might have a relatively good system (audited by nongovernment entities). Unfortunately greed and incompetence will always be there, but it has to be better than what we’ve got.

(Elaine Nelson) #4

Currently, the health insurance companies are aligning themselves in helping the government to ensure all of its citizens. In the beginning, as with all new programs of such massive undertaking, there are inevitable problems that must be corrected but overall it has improved greatly since the initial startup. Even those states who chose to operate their own system, its people are discovering that it is far from adequate compared to those states who are cooperating fully with the federal agencies.

As the last of all first world nations to institute a health plan that will cover all its citizens it should not be expected to be fully operational without any problems. Eventually, everyone will realize that the old way of relying on many different insurers with different coverage and payment is far from adequate.

Medicare is 100% government health insurance and the most successful anywhere. Regardless of its problems, there is no congressman who would dare to revoke it.

(Ikswezdyr) #5

I would suspect your news source is very limited to stations that promote the government’s propaganda. The latest statistics seem to show that Americans do not support the program.