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Shamelessly Exploiting Natasha Richardson | The Nation

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The Notion

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Shamelessly Exploiting Natasha Richardson

Now this is truly sick. "Canadacare May Have Killed Natasha" says the New York Post, trumpeting an article written by Cory Franklin, first published by the Chicago Tribune (and given splashy play by the Daily Beast). Just as we are gearing up to begin debate in this country over a much-needed public healthcare plan comes a story perfectly calculated to arouse the fears of Americans that "socialized medicine" would endanger their health. Leaving aside for a minute the baselessness of those fears--and the bad taste involved in this nakedly political exploitation of an admired (and progressive) actress's tragic death--there's one little problem with Franklin's theory. It's wrong.

Richardson, Franklin writes, "required an immediate CT scan for diagnosis" after the head injury she sustained in a skiing accident. But, he claims, the hospital in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, where she was treated, was not a "facility capable of treatment." Franklin notes that, while "it hasn't been reported whether the hospital has a CT scanner, …CT scanners are less common in Canada." And he goes on to say that people who criticize the private US system for having too many specialized services like CT scanners are ignoring that "it is better to have resources and not need them than to need resources and not have them."

So Franklin's argument is based on the assumption that the hospital in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts lacked the equipment it would have needed to diagnose Richardson, all because of the decrepit state of government-run medicine.

Franklin, it turns out, is either guilty of deception or shockingly shoddy journalism, or some combination of both. A phone call from The Nation to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts elicited some interesting information. The hospital has a CT scanner. Its director of communications would not, out of understandable deference to the family's wishes to protect her medical privacy, divulge whether or not Richardson received a scan. But there's no reason to believe that she did not.

Of course it is possible to miss the proverbial forest for the trees here. The larger point is that, even if the facility had lacked adequate resources, that would not have been the fault of Canada's socialized medicine. Indeed, its national health system has been under assault from its own homegrown neoliberals, especially in Quebec, called "ground zero for healthcare privatization" in a recent report. The proliferation of private clinics has created a two-tiered system that effectively undermines the public system, draining resources and rendering it less functional and less popular. This gambit--eviscerating government services to the point that people lose faith in government, which in turn reinforces the key tenets of conservative ideology--is sadly familiar, a US export Canadians would have been better off without. Let's hope that in the coming healthcare debate, we'll heed the lessons Canada's experience has to offer--grounded in fact, not right-wing fantasy.

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