Blood Money

Blood Money

Susan Rosenthal

After years of battling penny-pinching governments to get more funding for health care, I was amazed to see those same governments fling open the treasury doors to the corporate sector.


The government says it can’t afford to fully fund the medical system. But it sings a different tune when business comes calling. As a result, the needs of sick people are being sacrificed to support “sick” businesses.

Heather’s kidney stone

Heather Caron is a 64-year-old retired teacher whose kidney is being sacrificed to the god of profit.

Thirty years ago, Heather developed a kidney stone large enough to block the flow of urine, so that her kidney became swollen and distressed. She went to the hospital, where a non-invasive attempt to remove the stone failed. Within 48 hours of being diagnosed, she had emergency surgery and was kept in hospital for three weeks to recover.

On October 30 of this year, Heather developed another stone in the same kidney. Again, the stone was blocking the flow of urine. Again, her kidney was swollen and distressed. A CAT scan confirmed the diagnosis. And that’s where the similarity ends.

This time, the blocked kidney is not treated as an emergency, requiring immediate surgery. Instead, Heather is sent home with a prescription for powerful pain-killers and told to return on November 11, at which time the doctor will try to remove the stone using a non-invasive procedure. She anxiously inquires if waiting so long will damage her kidney. The doctor confirms that it will, but tells her there are no earlier appointments.

On November 11, Heather’s kidney stone is too large to be removed easily. She is scheduled for in-patient surgery on December 9, 40 days after her diagnosis! Not only that, Heather must find someone to transport her home the day of the surgery and take care of her at home, or her surgery will be canceled.

Heather is beyond stressed. When she explains that her previous blocked kidney was treated as an emergency, the doctors reply, “Things are different now.” When she goes to a different hospital, the doctor tells her,

“We can’t help you any faster. We’ve got a line-up of people at our door for this surgery. If you’re in pain, take drugs. If you develop an infection, take antibiotics. Good luck, and good bye.”

Heather sits in my office shaking with fear. She feels trapped in a horrible nightmare where no one seems to care that her kidney is dying a little more each day. She wonders if she’s being neglected because she’s an older woman. She asks. “Do you think I’m expecting too much?” I can barely contain my rage.

A deficit of humanity

Things have changed. Thirty years ago, the Canadian medical system was funded well enough to provide Heather with timely treatment. Today, cost-cutting is more important than patient care. It’s true, the world economy is sinking into recession, and all governments face budget deficits. But that’s no reason to deny people essential services.

A budget deficit is simply the difference between what governments raise in taxes and what they spend. As we have seen, these two factors can be juggled to meet political priorities.

In boom times, budget surpluses are spent on tax cuts and corporate subsidies. In hard times, business is supported by cutting social programs. And, at all times, the war machine is amply funded. Financial deficits aren’t the problem. The problem is the deficit of humanity that favors profits over people.

The billions of dollars being lavished on banks and other corporations is blood money. It’s available only because people like Heather are being robbed of their kidneys, their health and their lives.

In Canada, the mainstream media, the medical profession and the government alternate between denying  the crisis in the medical system and using this crisis to promote more privatization and more rationing.

Frogs in a pot

When I tell Heather’s story, most people are outraged. However, some tell me that she’s “lucky” to “only” have to wait 40 days instead of 3 months! How did such shameful neglect become “normal”?

Decades of unrelenting cuts to the medical system and the now widespread acceptance of rationing remind me of the story of the frog in the pot of water on the stove.

At first the frog feels fine. As the water slowly heats, he feels a little sleepy, but he is not alarmed. As the water continues to heat, the frog falls asleep and doesn’t notice that he’s cooked for dinner.

What’s the solution?

Appealing to the capitalists is useless, because they don’t have the same morality that we do. Their priority is protecting the profitability of the capitalist system. When they need medical care, they can easily obtain the best services.

In contrast, health workers and patients share a common interest. However, capitalism denies us the power to decide what services are funded.

As a result, health workers are caught between increasingly desperate patients on one side and cost-cutting bureaucrats on the other. While we work to relieve human misery, our social role demands that we function within the system as it is. That’s why most health workers go along with rationing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Health workers have a choice. We can become as heartless as the system we serve, or we can organize and fight for patients’ rights.

The people in power have created this crisis with THEIR short-sighted greed for profit. Now they’re demanding that WE sacrifice our health, our lives, our homes, our jobs and our futures to bail them out. Let them clean up their own mess!

People’s needs must come first. There’s no deficit of people willing to work to provide for one another. If capitalism cannot make human welfare a priority, then we need to organize a social system that can.

See also Medical Rationing in the US and Canada and International Health Workers for People Over Profit

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