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January, 2006

Vision and the Fight for a New World:
A vision of a truly healthy society

By Salvador Sandoval, MD

It used to be said that "if you've got your health, you've got everything." As we take stock of the recent past, we've got to ask ourselves if that is really true anymore. Does the healthy young college student who just graduated and can't find a job have everything? Or is the reasonably healthy laid off factory worker fortunate? Is the young mother who's family survived Katrina but lost everything else happy? Is the young war veteran who survived Iraq without being killed, healthy? What about the young person who dropped out of school, but landed a job at the fast food restaurant? Or the middle aged woman who survived breast cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and is now bankrupt?

We live in an age of growing contradictions. We are living longer, but we are worried to death about not having the economic resources for a major illness or the infirmities of old age. This is true for the insured as well as for the uninsured. The recent General Motors cutbacks on employee and retiree health benefits, a trend setter for other organized labor negotiations, attests to that. Technological marvels abound. We are on the brink of mapping the human genome, with its promise of finding cures for many scourges of mankind, yet we can't find enough vaccines to protect against the flu, let alone bird flu. Many are being priced out of health care at precisely the time that health care's promise appears so alluring.

The World Health Organization defines health as: "a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." By that definition we are not healthy; we are a sick nation. Few go untouched by the insecurity and worries of losing their job or health benefits. The uninsured live 8 years less. Drug addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, youth violence all are symptoms of a society gone astray. Resources to help people are squandered on endless war abroad.

Domestically, suspicions and divisions are aroused and fomented. Meanwhile the number of uninsured passes 45 million in this country, and shows little sign of easing. We are at a fork in the road. We can continue down our present path, one where health care is sold to the highest bidder, and crumbs or nothing else fall to those lower on the economic ladder. This path leads to further alienation from one another. Or we can travel the other path.

Our Native American brothers and sisters celebrate the sacredness of life. They stress the interconnectedness of all living things and the earth. We have nearly traveled full circle. With the technological advances of science and guided by the vision of a cooperative society where no one goes without health care and the basic necessities of life, we can complete the circle.

Tribal elders speak of visions where they can see clearly the relations of things and the path ahead. My vision is for such a just and cooperative society. I invite others to share in and expand this vision. Only by developing our joint vision can we hope to sustain ourselves for the long and hard road that lies ahead.