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Recently, I viewed an article on Facebook about a family in Coffeyville, Kansas, who had to go to court and were jailed because of an outstanding medical bill. Mom had Lyme disease and the 5-year-old little boy had leukemia. Neither are anything I would want to contend with, and certainly wouldn’t want to for a child. So, one income, trying to make ends meet and now in jail. What in God’s name are they thinking? The attorney for the hospital was really proud of the program he had worked out with the courts on capturing payment for the non-profit hospital — report to court every 90 days to prove you are still too poor to pay much; if you miss a court date, you go to jail.

I thought of all the families I have worked with over the years who were medically indigent. One of the first people I ever worked with said she needed $5,000 for surgery for a circulatory disorder. I thought she was not hearing them right, so I went to the hospital with her and indeed that was the demand. Without insurance she needed that before surgery would be performed. I appealed to them on her behalf to no avail. She did not get the surgery. She died a year or so later. The outrage I felt over her death never went away. No one in this country should be denied medical care because they have no money. No one should die because they have no way to purchase their medication, or die in child birth or have a still born baby because they couldn’t afford prenatal care.

We speak a lot of pro-life positions; we need to protect all life. People will stand outside an abortion clinic to prevent a woman from making a choice they do not believe in, but where are they for the 5-year-old in Kansas who has leukemia? Pro-life is about all life and if elected officials are going to take pro-life positions, then shouldn’t they be fighting just as hard to provide affordable, available, and quality medical care?

I didn’t just rely on the story on Facebook, I actually called the Mayor’s office in that community and the City Attorney called me back. A few calls have been received, so he wasn’t surprised to receive mine. I think I was more surprised that he called. He explained it was a county issue but understood how it affected the way people might feel about their community. I explained that perhaps the Mayor could use his political clout to deal with both the hospital and their obnoxious attorney, who was quite proud of his court program.

Human dignity is important to me. To strip a struggling family trying to ensure the life of their child and his mother by demanding they show up every 90 days to prove their poverty is demeaning and reeks of a lack human compassion that I haven’t witnessed in a while. As a person who has spent a lifetime working with the poor, I have witnessed many injustices. What was the judge thinking as he approved that program? How did the hospital justify its position considering every doctor in that hospital took a Hippocratic Oath? I think of that 5-year-old child as I look at my 5-year-old grandchild and wonder what I would do in their situation. I would imagine that poor husband and father feels trapped, alone, and like a failure. How could anyone find satisfaction in doing that to a family over money?

I believe in universal health care. If we provided that, so much would be different in this country. Doctors would be able to doctor and they would still be paid well. Maybe they wouldn’t be millionaires, but what price should be placed on your humanity? Medical care is not an option. In many cases you die without it, so why can’t we all have one insurance? I am not a particular fan of Bernie Sanders, but I agree with him and Elizabeth Warren on this one.

As a country with all the resources we have, we should never bury a child who died because his family couldn’t afford medical care. Indiana is currently third in the nation on infant mortality, primarily from poor prenatal care. I don’t get it. In a country that is so divided on how to deal with the unborn, shouldn’t we be more united on how to deal with the born? You can’t have it both ways. Every life that is born in this world is precious and needs to be treated with dignity and protected, no matter whether they are insured or not. We need to re-examine our values and look deeply into our souls. I know I can’t send a fortune to the Biggs family, but I will send what I can afford.

Barbara Anderson is a local human rights activist. Contact her at

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