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Passive Euthanasia in L.A. : County-USC Medical Center reflects our national failure in health care

Most of what is wrong with the health care system in the United States is on dreary, and too often tragic, display at County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles.

To begin with, as Times writers Claire Spiegel and Irene Wielawski made clear in a bleak appraisal of conditions at the teeming hospital, there is no national system. Which means that money alone could not solve the problem here, even if there were any hope of getting money in a state bogged down in recession and facing a new round of stiff cuts in the state budget.

The lack of system shows most starkly in the fact that nearly one-third of the population of Los Angeles County has no health insurance, slightly more than double the percentage nationally.

What little medical treatment these mostly poor people get often comes in the emergency room of one of the county’s three teaching hospitals, the largest of which is County-USC. Because they make the trip to a hospital as a last resort, they usually arrive sicker than the average hospital patient.

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While Washington talks of creating--maybe sometime in 1993 or more likely later--a genuine health care system that would cure this aspect of County-USC’s crisis, more than 500 people show up at the hospital’s main emergency room every day, hoping for a turn on one of its 18 beds.

That so many people lack insurance is one of American society’s great failures. That it seems unlikely to be corrected anytime soon is an outrage.

Another breakdown in health insurance involves a new wave of patients who have lost jobs in the recession and lost their health insurance along with the jobs. Americans need health insurance that moves with them if they change or lose jobs.

Three months ago, Edward L. Newton, a supervising doctor in County-USC’s main emergency room, wrote the chief of the hospital’s emergency medicine: “We are being required to ration health care, and at times to perform what amounts to passive euthanasia.” He called that a “moral outrage.”

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So too is the lack of a sense of urgency in Washington about correcting an intolerable situation that afflicts all cities, just not on the scale that Los Angeles sees.


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