Sept 29, 1989

The Exorbitant Price of Hope

I know that everyone has to die, but I thought that in my case they'd make an exception.

William Saroyan, on his deathbead.

When a person is diagnosed as having an incurable disease, he figures that his days are numbered. Sure, he knew all the time that he was going to die some day, but now it's a matter of immediate concern. Of course, the doctors have been wrong many times before. But, after getting that second opinion, it looks as if it's probable that time has run out.

Many old people are philosophical about it, accepting the end without too much fuss. Some younger people are also accepting of the end. Many are not, and "rage against the dying of the light". Of these, many fall prey to the purveyors of Hope.

Some Hope salesmen don't charge much for their product: a few bucks worth of herbs, a bit in the collection plate after the prayers. These people are fine and do a lot of good by making hopeless people feel better.

The professional Miracle-Cure peddlers, on the other hand, are very expensive and they are the Scum of the Earth. Many people make a living off of the misery of others, but these swine offer nothing of value in return -unless you consider false Hope as worth something.

How much is Hope worth? It, like anything else, is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. In the case of Hope, unlike most commodities, there is no relationship between price and quality. Often the Hope that cost the least works the best. The Hope that a child has is a lot better than the kind that you have to pay for.

Some people, like the late actor Steve McQueen, have lots of money and one sucker like him can pay the rent on the hospital, the accountants and leave lots left over for the salesman. You don't have to count the cost of the miracle drug, because it's cost is as negligible as its efficacy.

The attitude of these thieves is that you have to get as much as you can out of a sucker before he dies. With AIDS, a person may take a relatively long time to die, so they can extract a bit less money out of him over a longer period of time. It comes to the same thing. A lot of money for false Hope.You stand a much much better chance of winning the lottery than of being helped by these con men -and the lottery is a real long shot.

Those con artists are good at what they do. They can keep Hope going until someone's last breath. Their dying victim will also be convinced that there actually have been people helped and that he is the exception. I am astounded at the attitude of so many of these dying people who actually believe that they have been helped. Maybe they have to believe that they have been helped. To believe that they have spent so much money for nothing at all is unthinkable. Even those who are aware that they have been swindled are reluctant to admit it. No one wants to be thought a fool.

Much of the success of these con artists is directly attributable to a dirth of support for the terminally ill patient. When the support is there, the con men have a more difficulty getting a foothold. There are, unfortunately, a number of physicians who, when there is no real Hope, reject their patient. If they can't deal with dying, as many can't, and they send the patient to someone who can, everything can turn out OK. If the patient has a supportive family, that helps a lot. Some people have no support at all and they are at real risk of falling for the con man's pitch.

Con artists are fairly easy to recognize. They are enthusiastic about their product and act kinder and more considerate than anyone has a right to expect of a stranger. They are eager to condemn the medical profession. They will also tell you that people are trying to suppress their discoveries. They have a logical explanation for why the treatment will work. It will make sense to you, but not to someone who really understands the subject.

These swindles are perfectly legal. Anyone with an M.D. degree can inject his own private cancer or AIDS cure and charge whatever he wants for it. If it doesn't actually injure the patient, he can get away with it; and can usually get away with it if it does. How does anyone know that the patient died of the cure, if he has cancer or AIDS. Besides, the patient's not going to be around to testify. People without medical degrees can't inject their worthless garbage; they have to give it by mouth. I remember a doctor who was injecting a lye solution into kids with leukemia and charging them a fortune for the treatments. The parents thought that he was wonderful. Amazing, isn't it?

Can anything be done to stop these con artists? Not as long as we accept it as a God-given right to swindle our fellow man.

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