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Borrowing from Pankaj to Heal Parag

October 2010
Borrowing from Pankaj to Heal Parag

Dear PMG:

Although there is much to like in the healthcare reform that was passed earlier this year, it doesn’t help my nephew.  He came to the United States two years ago to work on a software project for a small outsourcing firm and has done well in his chosen career, but recently began having health troubles:  he has blood in his stools.

I took my uninsured nephew to the doctor, who immediately ruled out hemorrhoids.  The physician suggested a series of diagnostic procedures ranging from simple blood and stool tests to more complicated sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy.  The results may require lifelong medication and could lead to surgery. We can afford the testing, but the more complicated procedures, pills, and surgery are out of our reach.

My wife and I are contemplating using our son’s insurance to help cover our nephew’s healthcare costs.  We had told my sister in India to not worry about sending her child to America, because he would be a son to us.  Indeed, our son and nephew are about the same age.  We know that this would require a falsehood on the insurance forms, but that seems a small price to pay for returning our nephew to good health.

Dear Friend,

“Openness of mind strengthens the truth in us and removes the dross from it if there is any.” (M. K. Gandhi).

It goes without saying that Satyalogue is not a healthcare advice column.  But please know that you place your biological son’s medical history at risk by considering this caring but misguided action.  What the column does attempt to heal are the aches and pains associated with choices that test our ethics.  With that caveat, let’s consider the either-or framework that you find yourself in.

The beauty of Gandhian thought is that it enables us to break through simple dichotomies by recognizing core values that go into decision-making.  The contested principles here are truthfulness and good health:  can you tell a small white lie to save a life?

But in truth, you have many more choices available to you than the predicament you have presented.   What would happen if your nephew returned to India, where healthcare is more accessible?  Have you considered getting treatment at a medical school, which may charge a lower fee so that students can learn while providing care?  Have you notified your nephew’s employer about the illness and inquired about their policy for emergencies of this sort?  Are there any medical providers with whom you can share your financial concerns?  Perhaps they would be willing to waive their fees or defer payment over a period that is reasonable to all. 

While opening yourself to these questions may not completely resolve your situation, the answers can be a source of truthful dialogue, which itself will generate many other potential solutions.

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