For his most recent film, Sicko, Michael Moore turns his skeptical, investigative eye towards the health care system in the United States. The result? Yet another film that poses the ever-strengthening question: is the United States really the greatest country in the world? For the religiously-minded viewer, we might again question just how “Christian” our nation really is. Either way, Moore has released another significant film and, I would argue, one of the most spiritually significant films of 2007.
In Sicko, Moore plays a decidedly more “passive” role in the interview process, and I use that phrase lightly. Rather than antagonizing politicians or shoving a microphone in the face of health insurance CEO’s, Moore lets the ugly reality speak for itself by interviewing everyday folks with nightmare stories of denied healthcare, with some cases even resulting in the death of a loved one or family member because of denied care. Of course, Moore cinematically aids these stories to his own manipulative ends, but we should all know this before buying our tickets…right?
Along with these homeland horror stories, Moore contrasts the United States healthcare system with that of England, France, Canada, and even Cuba, all of whom have socialized medical care. To put it bluntly, all services are free regardless of a person’s insurance status. In the case of England and France, not only is healthcare guaranteed, wholistic care is provided as well in the form of lengthy paid vacations, (pa)maternity leave, unlimited sick days, and, in France, the opportunity to have a government-sponsored nanny to help out around the house of a family with a newborn.
These comparisons could be evidence enough that something is amiss in our homeland healthcare, and indeed, they are not too far off the mark. However, we must approach a Michael Moore film with the same amount of skepticism that he approaches these issues. While I certainly do not want to downplay the seriousness of the cases that he relays or the evil with which most HMO’s conduct their business, Moore obviously ignores the numerous (potentially countless) cases in which people receive adequate care. Moreover, he also ignores the troubles of socialized medicine that do exist (my wife who served as a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse in England and now here in the US has interesting things to say about the pros and cons of each). One glaring absence in the continuity of his international medical visits is his failure to ask a Cuban doctor what his take-home salary is each month.
Surprisingly perhaps, Sicko is one of the most spiritually significant films of 2007 and certainly one that social-justice minded Christians should not miss. The benefits of socialized medicine are clearly evident, but the reasoning behind national healthcare, espoused by Canadian, British, French, and Cuban doctors, patients, and politicians clearly echoes Jesus’ commandment to care for “the least of these.” While I could go on for pages recounting memorable quotes, I only want to offer a few here.
First, while in England, Moore interviewed former old labour MP Tony Benn (who I had the privilege of having lunch with while serving at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London). Benn is a socialist and proud of it. His comments on government in general are powerful, and his thoughts on government control through fear and hoplessness are especially pertinent to our situation in the United States. When Moore pressures him on the “capitalist” emphasis on choice, Benn bites back, “Choice means nothing if you don’t have the freedom to choose.” Perhaps Benn’s most memorable argument is that a government that can find enough money to kill people ought to find enough money to care for people.
Second, Moore’s contacts with Canadian and French patients and doctors reveal, in part, societies concerned with the least of these. The people that Moore interviewed clearly recognize that others might need a little extra help and that proper healthcare ought to be one of these areas assured to rich and poor alike. The confidence in humanity and decency is refreshing. One Canadian man hopes, “They’d do the same thing for me if they could.”
Finally, Moore’s interview with a British general practicioner sums up, for me, the heart of the matter. This doctor is married, has one child, and lives in a three bedroom townhouse in London (one of the most expensive cities in the world). The house seems more than comfortably apportioned, and he drives a newer model Audi. By all accounts, this man and his family seem to live a comfortable, happy, and healthy life. Moore presses him on his government-paid salary as a doctor for the National Health Service. He takes home around 80,000 pounds per year (roughly $150,000). He actually receives financial bonuses from the government if he provides successful care to his patients. These bonuses can push his salary well over 100,000 pounds per year. More astounding thatn this is his attitude towards life. “I am content. I am happy.” He continues, “I guess if you want a mansion and four cars then you can go work in another system, but I am happy with what I have.”
Herein lies the crux of the issue: contentment. Our capitalized society thrives on never having enough, and is perhaps epitomized by big corporations, HMO’s chief among them, who seek greater profit year on year. It would be great if this profit were put to use for the greater good, but sadly, this is not the case. Moore comments in the film that we need to stop living in a “me culture” and start living in a “we culture.” It would be ridiculous to think that Canda, England, France, and Cuba are utopias that have it all figured out. My wife can attest to medical “shortcomings” in the UK, I have a close friend who has much to say about social ills in Cuba, and we all are well aware of religious/racial issues in France. However, at least in terms of healthcare, one of the most important social justice issues of our time, these countries truly are working towards “we cultures.”