By MIKE MAGEE
On March 25, 1966, during the Poor People’s March that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
This week, my niece in Orlando, Florida, sent her 8-year old son, masked, back to public school. He has a history of severe allergies, including several anaphylactic episodes requiring emergency respiratory intervention. His class included a voluntary mix of masked and unmasked children. He now has a 105 degree fever and has tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid.
His crisis, and those of countless other children in Republican led states now lies clearly on their governor’s shoulders. It also suggests, as with voting rights, that we can no longer allow health planning and delivery to be captured entities of the states rights crowd. Dying children are just not acceptable in a civilized society.
The impassioned and illogical pleas of leaders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are literally as old as this nation. As with many controversies in human endeavor, the easiest way to decipher history and meaning is often “to follow the money.” Such was the case in the battle between state and federal rights. This battle engaged early and often, with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Soon after the 1788 ratification of the U. S. Constitution, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton, suggested a federal bank to manage debt and currency. Jefferson, then Secretary of State, opposed it for fear of a federal power grab. Regardless, in 1791, Congress created the First Bank of the United States with a 20 year charter.
When the charter ran out in 1811, it wasn’t renewed. But then the War of 1812 intervened, and in 1816 the Second Bank of the United States was created with the Federal government holding 20% of the equity. The divide led to the creation of two political parties – the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party whose members were committed to undermining the bank.
The battle came to a head when, in 1818, the Maryland’s state legislature levied a $15,000 annual tax on all non-state banks. There was only one – the Second Bank of the United States, which refused to pay. The suit rose to the Supreme Court with Maryland claiming the right to tax based on their reading of the 10th Amendment claiming state protection against extension of non-enumerated rights to the Federal government.
The landmark 1819 case – McCulloch v. Maryland, defined the scope of the U.S. Congress’s legislative power and how it relates to the powers of American state legislatures. In ruling against Maryland, Chief Justice Marshall argued that:
“Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.”
It was the people who ratified the Constitution and thus the people, not the states, who are sovereign.
One hundred and thirty years later, on December 10, 1948, the newly formed United Nations, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That day, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke for America, stating: “Where after all do human rights begin? In small places close to home…Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
Of the rights enumerated and endorsed that day was included Article 25: Right to An Adequate Standard of Living. It read:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”, and “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
Professors like Jonathan Mann, director of the Health and Human Rights Center at Harvard School of Public Health, have added political heft to the debate. He agreed with a 2000 UN statement that “Health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights.” Why? He gives three reasons.
Political: “Health policies, programs, and practices have an affirmative impact on human rights, especially when state power is considered in the realm of public health.”
Discrimination: “Human rights violations have health impacts.”
A Propitious Cycle: “Protection and promotion of human rights and health are linked fundamentally in a dynamic relationship.”
What is somewhat remarkable is not what Professor Mann said, but rather how long it has taken to make its’ way from the streets of America to the ivy halls of academic, and now back again.
Covid, and its mutants and their enablers like DeSantis, are now part of our history. We the people, not the states, are sovereign. We must have the vote. We must protect our children. And we must have a national health plan based on science and truth.
Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.”