By MIKE MAGEE
“These are unprecedented times.”
This is a common refrain these days, from any citizen concerned about the American experiment’s democratic ideals.
Things like – welcoming shores, no one is above the law, stay out of people’s bedrooms, separation of church and state, play by the rules, fake news is just plain lying, don’t fall for the con job, stand up to bullies, treat everyone with the dignity they deserve, love one another, take reasonable risks, extend a helping hand, try to make your world a little bit better each day.
But I’ve been thinking, are we on a downward spiral really? Or has it always been this messy? Do we really think that we’ve suddenly bought a one-way ticket to “The Bad Place”, and there are no more good spots to land – places that would surprise us, with an unpredicted friendship, a moment of creative kindness, something to make you say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
I’m pretty sure I’m right that human societies, not the least of which, America, will never manage perfection. But is it (are we) still basically good. What does it mean to be human, and more specifically American?
The late Dr. C. Everett Koop was the most revered Surgeon General in history, perhaps even the most revered Cabinet member. His calling card—indeed, his claim to fame – was his integrity. A Reagan appointee, he acted as though he reported to no one other than the American people and his own conscience. His penchant for candor and scientific independence fueled the federal government’s groundbreaking steps to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS at a time when the tendency was to demonize and diminish. He resisted incessant political pressure and refused to take positions or produce data that he knew to be false.
This drew strong support from both sides of the aisle, and even his detractors never questioned his honesty. (Exhibit A: The two authors of this posting, whose political views have little else in common other than respect for strong, independent-minded politicians.)
Dr. Koop’s legacy stands in sharp contrast to the eponymous award dispensed by The Health Project, whose committee members have turned their back on their founder. The last thing Dr. Koop would have expected is to see is *his* award bestowed upon people who know that they don’t deserve it. The 2012 award was given to three recipients for work done in Nebraska: a vendor that claims wellness programs don’t even have to exist to save money, an outfit that can’t even spell the name of its own founder, and a state employee benefits plan that is under investigation for sky-high administrative costs.
Among the extravagant statements that formed the basis for the award (like claiming more than $20,000 in savings for every person who reduced their risk factors for a year, even though per-person spending is only $6,000), they claimed to have made 514 “life-saving catches” on employees with otherwise undetected cancer. This data was obviously wrong to begin with — that cancer rate would have been at least 40 times greater than Love Canal’s. Nonetheless, it sure sounded good, and the Governor of Nebraska himself was all-in too, so an award was issued.
As a proponent of responsible DIY medicine, I love the idea put forth by Alex Beam in a column he wrote exploring the idea of writing your own obituary.
[The cynics chime in: “That’s where you’ll wind up if you try to “do” medicine yourself.”]
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who died in February, had his obituary in the NY Times initially inked in 1996, more than a decade before he actually died.** Since he was a figure of historic importance, we can’t blame the paper for being well-prepared.
Folks interested in the do-it-yourself approach won’t likely need to go to such lengths to create their own obituaries. Columnist Beam gives a couple of great examples of folks that have made good on such efforts: