WAMC –APRIL16, 2009
(slightly modified from the radio script)
DR. STEVEN A. LEIBO is the director of the International
& Globalization Program at the Sage Colleges
“On Real Human Rights”
There is hypothetical story I used to tell in class quite
often. It went something like this. Two people meet in the middle
of the quite side street, a mugger and an innocent
bystander who quickly becomes his victim. But then
unhappily for the mugger the authorities show up. One
team arrives ready to carry the mugger off to jail, and the
other his bleeding victim, off to the hospital.
And then I used to ask my students which of them, the
criminal so obviously in need of legal assistance or the
victim so obviously in need of medical assistance would
find their needs met by our society?
And of course they always understood that in this very
curious American society we live in, legal protection for
accused criminals is guaranteed. But our bleeding crime
victim, well he’d just better have a private medical
A curious reality made even stranger given that the
American government has long taken it upon itself to
annually issue a document judging the how much the
nations of the world have accomplished in meeting their
citizen’s human rights.
Odd indeed, given the simple fact that America itself has
long ignored one of the most commonly understood human
rights, the right to medical care without fear of destroying
oneself financially. A right that citizens from most of the
other industrialized nations simply take for granted.
People freed of that terror so many Americans constantly
face, the fear of not having medical insurance. Or having a
medical policy from a company they can’t trust to meet
their medical expenses, without trying to get out of it by
every means possible.
But happily, at long last there is a reasonable chance I
might not have to tell that story again soon. Might not have
to tell it again soon given the fact that at long last most
Americans finally understood that while America might
have some of the best physicians and the most impressive
medical technologies in the world.
Our medical delivery system, the ability to ensure that our
fellow Americans can actually take advantage of our
medical establishment is an out and out disaster,
enormously more expensive than it needs to be – even as it
fails so many of us on a day to day basis. But having
finally understood that that we have to rebuild our broken
health care, we know need to move on to the next step.
To ask ourselves, of all the different ways to reach
affordable universal health care designed so differently
around the world – from systems dominated by private
clinics and private insurance programs, to systems where
the government itself employs the medical practitioners—
and owns the buildings, or runs a unified insurance
program for the entire nation.
Just how will Americans find our own way to that so
widely recognized human right, affordable health care?
Well, most obviously by putting aside that American
allergy to learning from other countries. After all, one of
the very few advantages to having taken so long to address
such an obvious human right is the chance to learn from
the experience of other nations.
And one of the best ways to start is to study what the
Chinese on Taiwan have developed. Precisely because
Taiwan also started late but then gained the advantages of
building a system based on what had already worked
around the world.
Which is why the Sage Colleges of Albany, NY are
delighted to host a session next Thursday evening April 23
on what the Taiwanese learned as they built for themselves
a universal and affordable health care system that has been
very well received by their population.
An evening with the deputy director of Taiwan’s entire
national health care system, Dr. Michael Chen who has
generously offered his time to help Americans
learn what Taipei learned along the path toward affordable
national health care.
An evening at the Sage College of Albany on the 23 of
April that almost anyone who has ever struggled through a
conversation with an insurance company will want to take