Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 17, 2005

Government Welfare vs. Private Charity

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:20 pm

If the government ended all welfare programs for the poor, what would happen? Would they get jobs and get rich (or at least, non-poor)? Would private charities take up the slack? Some combination of both?

These questions are not easy to answer directly, but we can answer the reverse question. Suppose there were no government welfare, but extensive private charity. If the government started welfare programs, would private charity be reduced?

The answer — not surprisingly, at least to this economist — is yes. Prior to the 1930s, there was very little government support for the poor. There were of course poor people, and there was help for them, but most of it came from religious (and other private) organizations. Then along came the New Deal — the first modern government welfare programs — and church spending on help for the poor dropped 30%.

This is the result of a new study by economists Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman.

Think about this. If government aid to the poor means religious organizations spend less on the poor, they can spend that money on other things — so is government aid to the poor in effect government subsidy of religion?

Of course, this assumes that donations received fall by less than the amount spending on the poor falls. Which is not a sure thing. First, some (not all) people who donate may stop donating, or donate less, when they find out the money is being used for something else. And second, people will have to pay the higher taxes to support the government welfare programs, so they may have less net income available to donate.

In Memoriam, Mae Magouirk

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:50 pm

Thanks to Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye for pointing me to this article.

Mae Magouirk, who I mentioned before in this post and this post, has passed away this morning (May 16).

In March, she suffered an aortic dissection. Her condition was repaired with surgery and she was stabilized and conscious, but her 41-year-old granddaugher (and heir!) Beth Gaddy got herself appointed guardian, decided “it is time she went home to Jesus,” and had her sedated, transfered to a hospice, and her feeding tube removed, the goal being a Terri Schiavo-like death.

When other family members (including a brother, sister, and nephew) objected and got court support for their objection, the hospice argued that they could not legally re-attach the feeding tube, since then Mrs. Magouirk would no longer be terminal and therefore would be ineligible to be in a hospice. (Huh? Read that again!) After 12 days without food, she was transferred to a hospital, her feeding tube was re-attached, her sedation was ended, and she began to recover. The granddaughter then ordered that her other family members be barred from visiting her. They went back to court, and got limited visitation privilages.

She continued recovering, and was transferred to a nursing home, where she had a stroke yesterday and died today.

“Although she was cognizant, speaking, sitting up, eating/drinking and communicating until her last day alive, her family had decided not to tell her of the terrible ordeal she had endured at Hospice LaGrange until she was discharged from the nursing home. She was spared this final pain by God,” [her nephew Ken] Mullinax said in a press statement.

So, Beth Gaddy, who tried to kill her, will probably still get the inheritance she was aiming for — just a month or so later than she’d planned.

I’m sure we don’t know the half of it.

Massachusetts Considers Banning Bad Report Cards

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:21 pm

Legislation proposed in the Massachusetts Senate and House would, if passed, ban bad report cards, group projects, and quite possibly difficult exams. The law would apply to all private and public schools in the state. Whether it would include colleges and universities probably depends on how Massachusetts law defines “school.”

This sounds like either some sort of a joke, or a class president’s campaign promise come true. But it’s neither. Here’s the full text of the proposed law:

An Act relative to threats in schools

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Chapter 7 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 37N the following section:—

Section 37O. Whoever, in any public or private school in the Commonwealth, produces alone or in concert with another or others, a document by any means, containing the name or names of fellow student [sic] or school personnel or both which would thereby cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or groups of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years or by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by both such fine and imprisonment in a jail or house of correction.

(Emphasis added.)

Now, the plain meaning of this would include, for example, any document containing a teacher’s name (“school personnel”) which cause “anxiety” “to any person.” That would include, obvliously, a difficult test with the teacher’s name on it. (“Calculus — Final Exam — Mr. Smith” at the top of the page.) Surely a difficult exam would cause anxiety to some students.

A bad report card — which would typically include the names of the student and that students teacher(s) — would also cause “anxiety, unrest or fear,” perhaps of parental reactions, and even “personal discomfort” in a student who wanted to do better, even if that student has no fear of parental reactions. (Remember, the law says “anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort.” The “or” means that only one of those four elements must be present for a document ot violate the law.)

Indeed, even a good report card or a test with a high score could “cause … personal discomfort” to students who got lower grades or scores.

When I was in high school and tried out for a play, the results were announced by posting a list of called-back (and then casted) students on the door of the drama teacher’s classroom. One of my most anxious moments in high school was reading that list to see if my name was on it. That was a document containing “names of fellow students” and it produced anxiety, that would be illegal. (Only such a “document” would be illegal, mind you — if the drama teacher memorized the cast and read it out loud to the students that would be legal regardless of how much anxiety were produced.) After all, as Zero Intelligence points out, “The law states that if any person feels anxious because of a document with names on it the list writer is a criminal. It does not even go so far as to restrict the victim pool to people who are actually on the list.” In the case of casting school plays, the greatest axiety would be to those not on the list!

Zero Intelligence also points out that this law could ban group projects and teachers’ performance reviews. But there’s an easy way around that last one — just give all teachers immediate tenure upon hiring, or review the performance only of tenured teachers. Those teachers’ pay and continued employment is not at all related to their performance reviews (if any), so they would have nothing to be anxious about. (In public schools anyway. But the law applies to private schools also, so this law would force private schools to either eliminate performance reviews, or make the reviews unrelated to pay or continued employment.)

Now, you might argue that whoever wrote the law didn’t mean that. You might even argue that based on the title, which is not normally considered part of a law (as far as I know). But in that case, I would respond that whoever wrote the law needs to re-take some course in a relevant subject, like English composition, and learn the meaning of words like “any” and “person” and “cause” and maybe even “document.” And that the four (so far) legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors need to re-take some course in “reading comprehension.”

Keep in mind, by the way, that these legislators are elected by the people of Massachusetts, which includes most of the faculty, staff, and many students of some of our nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Fitchburg State College.

Zero Intelligence has links to the legislators, in case you want to contact them. I wonder if you should do so in writing. Would it do any good? ;-)

Brain Injury Patient Brought Out of Coma After 10 Years

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:37 am

Here’s something for the living will crowd to chew on:

In 1995, firefighter Donald Herbert suffered brain injuries when a roof collapsed on him while he was fighting a fire. He went into a coma and was given no hope of recovery. Doctors said nothing could be done for him. Until Dr. Jamil Ahmed put him on a combination of drugs used for other things, and brought him out of the coma on April 30, 2005. He immediately started talking, and kept talking — catching up with family and friends — for 14 hours straight. He has since begun physical therapy and is re-learning how to walk. He can now walk with assistance.

Note that he did not come out of the coma randomly — he just got treatment that he had not received before. I don’t know if the treatment was available 10 years ago and not given, or if medical advances since his injury made this possible. Certainly, if it was Dr. Ahmad’s creativity that made it possible, that would count as “an advance since his injury” — since Dr. Ahmad was still in medical school in Pakistan 10 years ago.

Dr. Ahmad said something I wish more doctors would say: “I never give up. Don’t give up. There should always be hope.”

He also said, “God will not help you unless you try something.”

Here’s the story in the Boston Globe.

(Hat tip: Kevin, M.D.)

Do you have to sue to avoid being starved?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:24 am

BatesLine has the story of Leslie Burke, of Lancaster (England). Mr. Burke has cerebellar ataxia — a degenerative neurological condition similar to multiple sclerosis — which may eventually remove his ability to swallow, and he does not want to be starved to death. He wants a feeding tube. But the doctors don’t want to give it to him. Or at least, they don’t want to have to give it to him if they don’t want to, notwithstanding his expressed wishes now and the fact that he will in all likelihood be fully conscious even if he does lose the ability to swallow and/or speak.

Mr. Burke won in the British High Court last year — but the doctors are appealing. For the right to starve him to death without his consent, if they decide he’s sick enough that his life isn’t worth living. Even if he thinks it is.

British doctors’ oversight group challenges disabled man’s right to choose artifical hydration

The right of the disabled to choose to continue to receive food and water is being contested in court in the United Kingdom.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the General Medical Council (GMC) is appealing a 2004 British High Court decision that gave a terminally ill Lancaster man the right to insist on receiving food and water through a tube, regardless of the opinion of his doctors.

Last summer, the High Court ruled in favor of Leslie Burke, who was diagnosed over 20 years ago with a degenerative neurological condition that will eventually cause him to lose the ability to swallow, while still retaining full awareness. Burke does not want to die of thirst, a process that can take two to three weeks. Because he may also lose the ability to speak by that time, he wants to ensure that his wishes are followed while he can still express them. Burke went to the court to challenge GMC guidelines that would let the doctors, not him, decide whether he should have a feeding tube:

GMC guidelines published in 2002 tell doctors it is their responsibility, rather than that of the patient, to decide whether to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging treatment.

Paragraph 81 effectively allows doctors to withdraw artificial nutrition or hydration from a patient who is not dying because it “may cause suffering, or be too burdensome in relation to the possible benefits”.

Read the whole thing.


Medical ethics/law expert Welsey J. Smith comments on the case.

And Leslie Burke, the patient, has a fascinating web site.

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