Childhood cancer is terrible. That statement should transcend all political views.
When I was in high school, I used to volunteer at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital (BBCH) at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. While volunteering there, I encountered dozens of sick kids, including those stricken with cancer. Some of them beat their illnesses. Others did not, in spite of their tremendous bravery and fight.
When certain patients took a turn for the worse, they were sent to Boston Children’s Hospital for more intense treatments. Everybody tried all they could to make sure that these kids got better, and many times they did.
Not every child is this lucky. Take for instance, Vanessa Riddle, a 12-year-old from Scotland. I first heard of Vanessa’s story on Twitter, and my heart broke when I read it. Vanessa was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma in February of 2009, when she was only eight years old. Her prognosis was grim. After 12 rounds of chemotherapy in addition to other treatments, Vanessa was deemed “all clear” in April of 2010.
Unfortunately for Vanessa, things were not all clear. Neuroblastoma is a very tricky form of cancer and relapses are common. Vanessa relapsed in December of 2011, with cancer strewn throughout her body, including her spine, legs, and skull. Even worse for Vanessa was that the National Health Service (NHS), the single-payer healthcare system in the United Kingdom, did not approve of any relapse protocols for treating her disease due to no government investment for treatments. Basically, Vanessa was out of luck if she wanted to get treatment at home. Her doctors said that her survival rate was now under 10%. Without treatment, she will die.
Had Vanessa lived in the United States or a different part of Europe without the NHS, she would have been treated aggressively like the patients I saw at BBCH. This isn’t even a question. Even if Vanessa’s family was very poor, she could have qualified for free or reduced-price care in the United States. Sher certainly would not have been told there was nothing they could do due to no government investment. I personally volunteered with several young Neuroblastoma patients. They all received treatment to beat their illnesses.
The NHS, however, finds it necessary and prudent to pay for things like a prostitute in Amsterdam for a man with learning disabilities, breast implants for people who are “unhappy with their breast size,” and caretakers for the super obese, rather than pay for treatment of one of the more common forms of infant and childhood cancer. This is a disgrace.
The NHS was touted and celebrated during the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics with dancing nurses and bouncy trampoline beds. I fail to understand how the NHS is a point of pride in the United Kingdom when this system is literally willing to let a 12-year-old girl die of a disease that’s treatable. Neuroblastoma isn’t a walk in the park to treat by any means, but it’s certainly treatable.
As a citizen of the UK, Vanessa was promised health care through the NHS, but she’s not getting it now. Instead, she’s currently in Germany undergoing a procedure that her own government decided they were not going to pay for. Vanessa’s family launched a fundraising drive online and her story has gone viral. Poorer British citizens and those without large Twitter followings in similar medical situations just aren’t as lucky.
When I went to the Supreme Court the day the PPACA (Obamacare) ruling was being read, I saw several protestors begging for a single-payer system in the United States. It’s no secret that for many left-leaning Americans, the single-payer system is the ultimate goal. Obviously, I am entirely against this. My health is far too precious to be put in the hands of the government, and I admire the innovation that goes on in our hospitals and laboratories. That would be squelched under a single-payer system: look at the United Kingdom.
I’ll be the first to admit that our current system isn’t perfect. However, single-payer would make things much worse. Look at Vanessa Riddle. Look at the thousands of Canadians who come to the United States for health care—my relatives included. If their system is so good, people wouldn’t be fleeing it.
In a nutshell: single payer healthcare is great for obese adults, but it’s bad for preteens with aggressive cancer. That system should never be implemented in the United States. The government should not be picking and choosing what medical care should be given—especially if it’s supposed to be “free” for all citizens.
To donate to Vanessa’s fund to pay for her treatment outside of the UK, you can do so here.
Get well soon, Vanessa. We’re all rooting for you.
Christine Rousselle | Providence College | @CRousselle