What is a human being worth?
This question is bandied about every day. In court rooms. In war rooms. In hospital rooms. The final price varies with each instance, but in Oregon, that price is less than the cost of an organ transplant.
Brandy Stroeder is very sick. She has cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes the pancreas, lungs and intestines to become clogged with mucus. To stay alive, Brandy needs a liver and lung transplant, an operation that will cost the state of Oregon about $250,000. Without the operation, Brandy will most surely die.
The state doesn't want to pay for Brandy's operation. It says that coverage should be ranked by medical odds. Because the odds and costs are so high in Brandy's case, Oregon has refused to pay for her medical bills.
Brandy's mother works two jobs to support her children. By sheer necessity, she is forced to rely on the government's health care system to foot her daughter's outrageously high medical bills. That system has let her whole family down.
Unless Brandy and her mom can get an injunction, and time to prove Brandy's worth, this 18-year-old woman will die.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Less than two years ago, my best friend, Amy, also needed an organ transplant. She'd received a kidney from her father when she was 13. Then at 28, it started to fail and she needed to obtain another one.
Before receiving that second kidney, though, the doctors tried several other means to keep her current kidney active. They regulated her diet and exercise levels. They performed painful surgery that left her chest and arms horribly scarred. They put her tiny 100 pound body through hours of dialysis, a process where huge needles and tubes were stuck into her body several times a week. They had her take thousands of dollars worth of drugs, drugs that messed with her blood pressure and caused her to endure frightening and dangerous seizures.
Even with all these other measures, she still wasn't placed on the list for a new kidney. You see, Amy was on Medicaid. Her first transplant had cost more than $150,000, and her second was sure to cost at least that much -- a cost that would be the responsibility of the state of Florida.
Amy's choices in life were limited. If she got a job, she'd lose her health benefits, and would be forced to pay for her expensive medical procedures and pills. Those bills reached over $1,000 every month. Without a college education, or any marketable skills, she couldn't possibly make enough money each month to pay these bills and afford the small things like rent and food.
At the same time, as long as she stayed on Medicaid, she was pushed to the back of the line. Money became a factor in her health care choices. And the state was bound and determined to push off her transplant for as long as possible.
That decision cost Amy her life.
What was she thinking as her kidney finally failed? Did she realize the end was near? Was there a bright light offering her hope? Or did the panicked music of fear roar in her ears, blocking all thought as her body fell lifelessly to the floor?
When she died alone in her apartment, Amy's kidney was functioning at less than 8 percent. She still wasn't on the transplant list.
DEATH BY NUMBERS
Neither of these women did anything to intentionally harm their bodies. They simply became sick and were forced to depend on the health care systems in their states. Both times, the states failed to help because it was simply too expensive to do so. In the collective minds and actions of Oregon and Florida, these women's lives were worth less than the cost of their surgeries.
Brandy and Amy are not just numbers. They are women with friends, family, loves, dreams and goals. In Amy's case, it's simply too late. She's already gone. But it's not too late to save Brandy. All we have to do is convince the state of Oregon that her life is worth the cost.