It seems more and more that topics that are, on the face of it, straightforward, which should not arouse anxious glances and uncertain muttering, are now labeled controversial and political. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing and mask policies may have highlighted the sharp divide in American views on public health, but the outrage with which many people react to those who refused to wear masks (out of stubbornness alone) should not be the result of so much shock. That anti-mask sentiment may be the most recent and egregious example of ignoring scientific consensus for the sake of political loyalties, but it is far from the first. From insulin prices to abortion to vaccines and countless other instances, there are innumerable examples of scientific consensus and the health — and, in some cases, the lives — of real people, friends and neighbors and citizens, being inexplicably ignored or discounted in the pursuit of some political maneuvering. Time and again, the human cost of politics is ignored.
It is a fact that insulin is a lifesaving medicine. It is also a fact that its price has more than tripled over the last decade alone. It is a fact that regulating that price is well within the powers of the government. It is a fact that having to pay at all for medicine that keeps you alive is patently and inarguably cruel and unfair, that you just may as well hold the afflicted party at gunpoint and demand regular payment from them as force them to pay for medicine without which they will die. It is a fact that the retort “life isn’t fair” holds no water when the power to make it fair is well within society’s reach. That excuse is a poor attempt at deflection from the truth: they simply do not care. There are lives on the line. Real, human, breathing, struggling, hoping, fighting lives on the line, lives with a future and a dream of their own, and the empty retort “life isn’t fair” means only that they lack the simple empathy to prioritize those lives over political bickering. Does it not seem ridiculous to believe that the collapse of society will be brought about by equitable health care, instead of by abandoning anyone who cannot afford their crucial mistake of being born with a condition? Does it not seem far more outrageous that anyone would even think to argue the impact of regulating the prices of lifesaving medication on free-market capitalism than it does that someone was screaming anti-mask propaganda in a public place? Is it not unthinkable that in one of the richest nations on Earth, a third of people in need of a life-or-death medication are unable to afford it? If we have the means to save lives, and we choose not to, what is our excuse?
It is also a fact that abortion was not a politically divisive topic until just a few decades ago. It is a fact that the medical and scientific consensus is that abortion rights are health care, and that lack of access to safe abortion endangers the lives of birthing people. Abortion only became a political topic when religious sects aligned themselves with political parties, commandeering the political scene so that a whole party had to take a unified stance against abortion to keep that voter base — with no thought to the human lives that ideology trampled underfoot. Nowadays, some of the anti-abortion movement’s most vocal supporters are from religions with no stance at all against abortion, signaling that it has become a political rallying cry more than a genuine religious qualm. And yet, in the face of these disingenuously religious objections from a minority, the scientific and medical consensus on the importance of abortion to health care has apparently been deemed insignificant — at the cost of the lives of real birthing people. How is it that the complaints of a religious minority have taken priority over a whole body of medical and scientific research? How is it that we ever took seriously arguments which have us curtail our own health care and endanger our own lives?
Vaccines and comprehensive sex education follow a similar trend. There is a clear, decisive consensus from scientists and medical professionals alike on their importance and plain examples of the human cost of compromising on them at all. Vaccines explicitly, directly save lives. Comprehensive sex education is the soundest form of sex education according to a broad body of evidence-based research. Undermining either of these practices endangers the health and safety of people, of real, human people, and we should not need a case study or a tragedy, a martyr, to remember to have empathy for them. There should never be an occasion to seriously entertain the notion of alternative sex education or anti-vax sentiment, much less to validate these destructive concepts on the immensely influential scale of a political party and genuine legislation.
There is no excuse for political grandstanding at the cost of human wellness and human lives. If we are to rise above base impulses and be human to one another, the only rational method of settling disagreements about public health issues is to heed the advice of the medical and scientific consensus. Going against scientific consensus in the name of politics is shamelessly admitting to lacking empathy, admitting to valuing jockeying in the spectator sport of political ideology over the lives of people’s loved ones.
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deuteronomy 15:7-11
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17