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Repeal of ACA will cause too much suffering

More than any other vote since President Trump’s inauguration, the vote on repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will determine the character and future of our nation.

Are we willing to deny healthcare to 20 million-plus of our fellow Americans, the very care that Congress receives as part of their compensation?

Have you ever actually witnessed a friend or family member die needlessly? Have you watched a parent agonize over their child who might have had surgery but was misdiagnosed? Have you suffered with an adult knowing that a correct treatment in time would have saved their lives, and saved their family’s anguish? Are you so callous as to permit the suffering you could prevent?

This year I have had two such experiences. Both chose not to treat a potentially fatal illness because of lack of insurance. Both lost their bets. The anguish is nearly unbearable. The change in families, of children losing a parent, of an adult child who must now care for ill parents who did not need to be ill, forces so many to look away rather than share the torture.

Who denies treatment to a sick person? Who forces a family into bankruptcy for the misfortune of a diagnosis that might have occurred to any one of us had fate turned her eye toward us? What has happened to America that we cannot recognize the most basic foundation of ethics: seeing ourselves in the situation of the other?

This is the pivotal moment. Destroying national health insurance will close down some hospitals, stifle aspects of commerce, force suffering on millions of people. But the larger question looms: what kind of people watch the suffering of their neighbors and sit on their hands, refusing help?

I understand that recently some boys watched and filmed as a man drowned. They did nothing to save his life. That signals the death of their souls, not of the drowning man, but of the witnesses. Even in wartime soldiers have feelings for the enemy; that’s why nations dehumanize their opponents, to keep soldiers from indulging their natural humanity. But who so lacks a soul, that s/he watches another human being die, and does not lift a finger to help?

They say there is waste in the system. So what? As a recipient of Medicare, I can tell you I am thrilled with my treatment. Every large system, and Medicare is humongous, will naturally endure some cheating. Would we really rather watch our neighbors cry out in avoidable screams from cancer, heart disease and so many other diseases so much more painful because somewhere someone defrauded the system? Have we no compassion? Have we no shame?

We call ourselves a religious nation because such a high percentage of the population attends church. But that is no measure of religiosity. Here’s the true measure, “It hath been told you what is good, and what the Lord requires of you, only to do justly, TO LOVE MERCY, [and thereby,] to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)

The future of America hangs in the balance. Are we a nation, or a collection of individuals looking out for themselves without regard for one another? You will not find the real answer in church, or synagogue, or mosque. You will find the answer on the floor of our nation’s capitol, as we decide together whether to be an American means sharing the fate of our neighbor, and making us a single people with a common fate and allegiance. Or will we watch our neighbors drown? The decision will determine the fate of us all.

Rabbi Mark H. Levin is founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah.