Don't Make Mass Violence Victims Beg for Money for Medical Bills

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


December 16, 2019

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

A couple of days ago, I saw an article that really troubled me. Politicians and healthcare leaders sometimes say that we have the finest healthcare system in the world. There is no doubt that there are hospitals, clinics, and doctors who are among the finest in the world.

But what we don't say, and what this story that I just read brings home to me, is that affordability is crucial to accessing the best healthcare in the world. If you don't have that, then it's not much of a system.

The story that caught my eye was a follow-up about the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August. Many people died, but we sometimes forget that many others were injured, including some who were terribly injured because of tremendous damage from high-powered weapons.

The follow-up story basically said that people were helping with a fundraiser at the very same Walmart and in other locations around El Paso. Remember, the reason that the site was targeted is because the shooter knew that many Mexican Americans shop there. And indeed, people were coming across the border from Mexico to shop at that Walmart. It was a racist attack and a hate crime—that's why the place was targeted.

These victims are poor. Some are not even US citizens, but they're here because their injuries were so bad that they needed immediate care. They're out with a tin cup, metaphorically, begging for money to help pay for their care. I have to add that a number of physicians and hospitals are doing pro bono work, and that is really ethically admirable.

You can't have a healthcare system where people are not protected by their government from mass assault using high-powered weapons or from racially inspired crime. Many wind up severely injured and then they're told to go raise money to receive healthcare. A decent, humane healthcare system doesn't put that kind of burden on innocent victims of mass violence.

I am sure the story I'm telling you about El Paso could be replicated, sadly, among the hundreds of other annual mass shootings that we see in the United States each year. Obviously, we need to come up with some solution to the mass shootings.

We also need to come up with some solution to the payment problem of people—some children—whether or not they are citizens, who wind up in the crossfire and become disabled, chronically injured, suffer from PTSD, need counseling, etc. These are severely damaged individuals. To tell them to go beg is not what the finest healthcare system in the world does.

We need health reform that grants access to all and ensures that if you're injured in an act of terrorism, you don't have to crowdsource, run a carwash, or organize a bake sale. That care will be provided for you at government taxpayer expense. It's the least we can do for the victims of terror and mass violence.

I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU School of Medicine. Thanks for watching.

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, is director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine. He is the author or editor of 35 books and 750 peer-reviewed articles, as well as a frequent commentator in the media on bioethical issues.

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