Thursday, 18 June 2009

Eliminatory, My Dear Watson

Keith Watson, the TV critic for the London Metro freesheet, this morning egested the following commonplace as the conclusion to his short review of NHS documentary The Price of Life:

Footballers transferred for £80 million and not enough money to pay for life-saving drugs: there's something wrong somewhere.

Now, this is everyday pub conversation fare, and normally would not warrant my leaping up like a cartoon turtle hero from the murky depths of my childhood, flourishing my rapier wit and crying, "Cliché, and away!" But not only is this routine expression of one's humanitarian credentials trite - it is as naggingly wrong as it sounds plausibly true, and Margarita and I shall be banning it from the saloon-bar of our famous Billy and Dragon boozer, just as soon as we get around to opening it.

And this, despite the fact that I value health very greatly and football hardly at all. Is it then just that I am a selfish bastard or libertoonian Quixote, donating the pointy end of the stick to the NHS that heals me? Verily, nay! The error is a logical one, and no approach to healthcare can possibly do anything to amend it.

Let us suppose that all Metro's readers or the saloon-bar's regulars were profoundly struck with the justice of the cliché, and voluntarily donated or otherwise invested their hard-earned football money into improved medical treatment facilities. Nobody could deny their right to do so, nor their good will in so doing. Now there won't be that thing wrong here any more, will there?

Well, actually, yes there will. It is true that some money will have been diverted from paying a bunch of guys to kick balls around, to saving and improving a bunch of lives. Good on everybody. Perhaps only a small portion of the loot will have been diverted to buying doctors and health executives their third Lamborghinis, though that may not be the way to bet. But either way, the exact thing that was wrong before will still be wrong!

There will still be life-saving drugs out of reach, and probably for a comparably large number of patients. They will not immediately be the same patients - but there will always be more people you can save for a while with a bit more investment, as you expand the medical system's ability and capacity. At least, though, footballers will no longer be transferred for quite so much. You can reduce the demand for football, and the profits and pleasures associated with it, arbitrarily far by this kind of persuasion, supposing of course that it works.

But there will still be other people spending money on ridiculous luxuries with similarly disproportionate profits attached to them, when they could have been spent on saving lives instead. Consider the cost, not of a goal factory, but of a beer-making factory, or a movie-making factory, or of one lousy yacht for Captain Poser to swan about and manufacture his well-heeled seadoggy fantasies with. Clearly, we need to persuade right-thinking people not to subsidise these either, and to get with the medical programme.

That thing will not now be wrong. There will still be a large, though probably reduced, number of people who are missing out on life-saving drugs, because they can't by hook or by crook be afforded. But at least, for the duration of their tragically short lives, they won't have been wickedly wasting effort and money on football, or beer, or movies, or other frivolous luxuries of that kind. And nor will anybody else. That whole, obscenely callous and self-indulgent, side of life shall have been eliminated.

Which will be nice, won't it?

I am, generally, in favour of living for a million years, and then settling down to some really serious long-term plans for the future. But I think I should like to excuse myself from my share of such life as is to be saved by hollowing it out of everything but barest necessity. Which is, by iron logic, the only way that thing can ever be put right.

If music be the price of life - play on! Yea, and even if football.

1 comment:

  1. Broken link for Keith Watson was entirely due to my own blooper, and has now been detected and fixed. Apologies!

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