National Nurses United Says Letting Uninsured Patients Die Is No Laughing Matter Following Audience Cheers at Debate

Sep 13, 2011, 20:16 ET from National Nurses United

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The nation's largest representative of registered nurses today expressed revulsion at the cheering of some audience members in the CNN-Tea Party Republican debate Monday night at the prospect of letting an uninsured sick person die just because they do not have health insurance.

Prompting the outburst was CNN's Wolf Blitzer's question to Rep. Ron Paul about whether care should be provided to an uninsured man in a coma. Paul responded, "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks." When Blitzer asked, "Are you saying that society should just let him die?" several audience members laughed and erupted into loud cheers of "Yeah!"

National Nurses United said the gruesome reaction is a reminder of the growing collapse of civil society, and the need for more humane policies. One such step would be to expand Medicare to cover all Americans so no one is in danger of losing their life because they are uninsured.

Nearly 45,000 deaths in the U.S. annually are associated with lack of health insurance, according to a study this year by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance.

"It was stunning. My first reaction is how far have we degenerated as a society?" said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN who was watching the debate.

Ross called the reaction antithetical to the essence of nursing. "Everything we do is geared toward preventing illness, and getting people well."

A broader question, says NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, is "one of national identity: Do we have - or even want - a country, a nation of common purpose and support - or just a collection of amoral individuals?"

NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN said nurses said the idea of "deciding whether someone deserves medical treatment based on their pocket book is abhorrent. Does that mean we should take someone off life support if they are in an accident because they are uninsured? For nurses that would be unconscionable, and should not be part of any society I want to be in."

"Healthcare should be a right for everyone, not a privilege for the few, a point nurses would debate with anyone," said Ross.

Ross said she was also disturbed by Paul's comment about "freedom."

"Abandoning people is not freedom," said Ross, "especially those without the resources to buy increasingly expensive private insurance. That isn't what I hear from my patients or their families."

"Most of us, other than the most wealthy, are just one illness away from bankruptcy and lack of health insurance," said DeMoro. "Nurses do not regard lack of wealth or personal misfortunate as a handicap or an excuse to withdraw needed and appropriate medical care. Nor should that ever be acceptable in a just and humane society."  

SOURCE National Nurses United