Sunday, August 3, 2008

Medical Deportation

The U.S. medical industry treats human bodies like a cash crop but what happens when the crop doesn't pay out?

From the NYTimes.

Luis Aberto Jimenez is one of hundreds of unauthorized immigrant workers in the U.S. deported by hospitals to save money on care. The federal government has not been involved in these deportations. They are private actions directed by hospitals' corporate executives. This practice illustrates the point at which two failed U.S. institutions--immigration and health care--meet to wreak tragedy on the lives and bodies of immigrant workers.

Jimenez sustained multiple fractures and severe brain trauma when he was struck, on his way home from work, by a drunk driver in a stolen van. Martin Memorial Hospital provided life-saving surgery and short-term care, and then sent him to a nursing home. When it became clear that no insurance would pay for his care, the nursing home dumped Jimenez back at the hospital with ulcerated bedsores that required more life-saving surgery. After that, Martin Memorial was unable to find rehabilitative care for Jimenez. Eventually, they contracted with a private company that specializes in repatriating indigent patients to send Mr. Jimenez to his home country of Guatemala. A court battle ensued, and Jimenez was spirited out of the country in the early morning hours just before a court was to issue a decision on a stay to prevent his deportation. Eventually, the medical deportation of Luis Jimenez was ruled improper, and the hospital is facing the likelihood of punitive damages. Jimenez is now living with his ailing mother in Guatemala. He is confined to a bed, his physical condition is rapidly deteriorating, and he is not receiving any rehabilitation or medical care. Mr. Jimenez's situation is not unique.

One Tucson hospital even tried to fly an American citizen, a sick baby whose parents were illegal immigrants, to Mexico last year; the police, summoned by a lawyer to the airport, blocked the flight.

In another case, a hospital
planned to send a comatose, uninsured legal immigrant back to Honduras, until community leaders got lawyers involved. While they were negotiating with the hospital, the patient, Sonia del Cid Iscoa, 34, who has been in the United States for half her life and has seven American-born children, came out of her coma. She is now back in her Phoenix home.

In many such cases, "Repatriation is pretty much a death sentence."

So What?

Imagine two patients lying side-by-side in a hospital, each with identical head injuries that require rehabilitation and long-term care. One patient receives the required care, and the other receives a death sentence. The value of a patient's life is thus determined by his nationality. If his paperwork is in order, he lives; it isn't he dies.

In what moral universe, does this make sense?