Lance, I Will Not Sign Your Petition (Part 1)

Lance Armstrong has an email petition going around the internet, perhaps you have seen it.

He states that:

“Too many cancer survivors today are denied new coverage or have their current coverage revoked when they need it most. This is inexcusable and must change. We demand that any healthcare reform bill passed by Congress address these urgent problems and include the following:

No American should be denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

No American should lose their insurance due to changes in health or employment.

Maybe you have jumped on board and signed your acknowledgement and agreement, perhaps you have not. Notwithstanding my deep admiration for Lance Armstrong, I for one have not, and will not, sign.

In what follows, three parts in total, I hope to explain fully why.

Today is October 5th, 2009, and this date is special as it vividly reminds me of the summer of 1970-the last summer my father and I fished together, the last tournament I caddied for him in local tournaments, the last summer where he would join my scout troop on outings. That summer also marked my first trip to see a PGA Tournament: The U.S. Open at Hazeltine National. We were a golfing family, and for my dad and I to walk together in Arnie’s Army, marvel at the power and finesse of Jack Nicklaus, and witness a fiesty European beat them both while munching Hazeltine’s famous hot dogs on a warm summer day was more than just fun and special. It was a great day.. And such is my last vivid memory of my father.

Yesterday, my daughter turned 12. We had a great day.. We hiked pretty hard for 3 hours in Rocky Mountain National Park marveling not at Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer powering and finessing their way around 18 holes, but rather Long’s Peak, Bierstadt Lake, and Glacier Gorge. We ate supper at Hu-Hut Mongolian BBQ (her favorite), and then returned home to gobble homemade cake adorned with goofy candles.. Turning 12 with your mom and dad right there with you is a wonderful thing, seems so normal. For the youngster, knowing mom and dad will be there for many years to come provides that sense of security and guidance they dearly need. Indeed, this is something every kid should experience. And believe me, I know because it is something I did not get to experience-my father died just weeks after my 12th birthday from throat cancer.

There would be no more fishing trips to Lake Superior, no more Boy Scout trips with him as a chaperone, and no more days at the golf club with him to guide me. It was tough, something no kid ought to have to go through.. And the culprit of this seeming injustice was cancer. A disease that robs not just the life of the victim, but affects, as do all serious illness, all those who are directly connected to the afflicted. At no time during, or since, have I ever considered my profound personal loss, or the trials, troubles, and tribulations I went through as a teen-ager, to be the burden of anyone else. How could it be? Yes, I was bitter at times; an angry kid. But over time I realized that the burden was mine to bear, and mine alone. That my job was to move on and live my own life. I was not angry at anyone in particular, I did not hold a grudge against all of society for not coming to my (or my father’s) aid. No, I was angry with an unseen, hardly known, killer disease. Why me, why my dad? Of course, there were a variety of people who made some nice gestures along the way, but at the end of the day moving on and growing up was ultimately up to me as it is for all of us. Whether they realize it or not, the restraint shown by my relatives in doing their part to not inculcate or enable a dependency upon them, in this regard, proved invaluable.

Roughly 8 years later I discovered I had some talent at distance running. It never really came easy to me, I had to work really hard. But the harder I worked, the fitter and faster I became. What was initially such hard work, later took on a totally different quality–hard work became linked to achievement. Also, icons of the sport such as Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers loomed larger than life to me. They were the best; they represented health, fitness, ability, hard work, and achievement. Above all, they exuded pride. I pursued running because of those virtues, because of what it did for my body and my mind – it literally saved my life, and it became a symbol of my fight against ill-health. In short, a way for me to get even and fight with this little known, unseen, killer called cancer.

So, when the day came after several years of hard work and training that I crossed the finish line of a foot race in first place overall you can only imagine the sense of pride: the knowledge, understanding, and incorporation of an abstration-proving to myself what a human can do if they put their mind and body fully to the task. With the click of a stop-watch I had dealt cancer, MS, obesity, drug addiction, diabetes, etc., serious blows to the midsection! No, I have never had any of those afflictions and one reason why may very well have to do with the way I chose to live. There is overwhelming scientific evidence1 to suggest that diet, vigorous regular exercise, not smoking (or quitting), not consuming drugs (or getting off of them), and limiting alchohol consumption fend off, delay, or prevent the onset of many maladies. On the other hand, there is absolutely no credible scientific evidence that shows that nationalized health care will lead to healthier individuals. What we do know is that it may very likely socialize the costs of a whole host of behaviors, increase demand for medical services, and divide this country as it has never been divided-none of which can be characterized as healthful.

I came to understand, and it is now self-evident, that my example now going on 30 years living a lifestyle of fitness, pursuing athletic competitions (and other challenging events), reflects an individual’s personal responsibility to them-self. A guiding principle that is reflective of ones understanding that man’s life is morality’s standard of measure, and that the purpose of this standard is your very own life. This implies, among other things, one ought to become as physically fit as possible, to test your fitness from time to time against others or against nature itself (a mountain, a lake, a canyon). That one of the keys to beating cancer, and so many other maladies, is to be cognizant of what it means to live rationally – which means: doing those things that promote the quality of your individual life through the recognition of what it is that a person needs to live well. Not because you are going to save the whole damn world-because you cannot-but rather for yourself as a truly and profoundly selfish act. As a natural by-product you do not become a burden on anyone else (certainly much less of one), and if applied across a large enough number of people the perceived need by some to force others to deal with such burdens not their own is rendered moot – creeds of self-sacrifce notwithstanding. Moreover, I would live a life where health, fitness, realizing ones ability through hard work, productiveness, and pride of achievement might just rub off on a youngster of my own one day.

My bout, through my father, with cancer taught me, over the intervening years, some of life’s most important lessons; not the least of which is to never live for the sake of someone else, and never let someone else live for your sake. Your life is your own, you make of it what you will – and it can be gone in a blink. If you default on this fundamental, you give sanction to those who would claim your life for their ends. And if done by force, it is known as tyranny or slavery. But if you pursue your own goals, rational life-enhancing goals, while respecting the rights of others to do the same, you allow yourself (and by default, promote the individual rights of all others whom you deal with) the great opportunity that this county, uniquely, offers to all of its citizens – the inalienable individual right to the pursuit of happiness. So it is, with all due respect to Lance Armstrong, that I would reply that he is not the only person on the planet who cares about, or has been affected by, cancer. And that this notion of a right to health insurance, or to health care, is not and cannot be a right. For if it is, then such a notion belies the self-evident truths regarding each and everyone’s individual right to life, liberty and happiness while ushering in a new paradigm of self-sacrifice of those rights to the collective known as society.

We all marvel at Lance Armstrong’s bike riding ability and his incredible accomplishments, just as I marveled at the age of 11 at Jack and Arnie. All are unique, and to have lost any of them to cancer, or to a car accident, or any other disease, would undoubtedly been a loss to all who have been at venues to see and appreciate their ability in action. But what Lance Armstrong is really asking here is no less than asking for me to agree that health insurance coverage be regarded as a basic, foundational, right accorded to every citizen. The problem here is that health care insurance, or the provision of health care services, cannot logically or practically be a basic right if those other, foundational, rights to individual liberty are to be taken seriously. After all, the founders of this country proclaimed a declaration of independence-not a declaration of dependence.

1 ..There are likely fewer issues that have been studied more in the last two decades than the relationship of diet and exercise to overall health and well-being, including weight loss and the associated health issues that go with it. The Mayo Clinic has somewhat of a generic page on exercise benefits (link here). Also, the American Council on Exercise has an excellent editorial with attendant citations for review (link here). Also, the ACE editorial referred to a mischaracterization of research cited by Time Magazine in an article they ran this fall (direct link here to the research organization). Lastly, I should point out that my father smoke cigarettes and consumed alcohol. Moreover, other than walking the golf course in the summer months he did not get any other specific exercise on a regular basis.

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