Land of the Healthy


The Society gathered for the Third Annual Jessica Caroe Debate to consider: Resolved: Being American is bad for your health. Mr. Victor Wang (NHS ’15) of Maryland keynoted on the affirmation with, making her induction, Ms. Sarah Griffin (SFS ’18) of New York. Ms. Dimitra Rallis (COL ’15) of New York keynoted on the negation with, making her induction, Ms. Yan Sun (SFS ’18) of China.

Ms. Griffin affirmed the negative impact of American culture on an American healthcare system that is neither healthy, caring, nor a system. The competitive nature of the American Dream leads to a high stress society with unhealthy food, over-medication and social inequality. The freedom of choice allows individual families to restrict their children’s access to vaccination and sexual health education. And individualism further breeds distrust for government and forestalls a National Healthcare System to provide crucial public services. “If this is American culture,” Ms. Griffin asserted, “it’s making us sick.”

Ms. Sun, hailing from China (Huzzah!), endorsed America as the shining city upon a hill. The American Dream, according to Ms. Sun, attracts talents from the world and drives them to excel in medical research and medical policy. Meanwhile, the freedom of choice creates a competitive medical market that meets a diversity of demands from a diverse population whose individualism is not suppressed. Instead of blaming the American culture, Ms. Sun concluded that “making the wrong choices as an individual is bad for your health.”

Mr. Wang, the Society’s medical expert, presented the discrepancy between America’s enormous healthcare spending and its problematic healthcare system. The American Dream creates a spectrum of socio-economic status that marginalizes those on the fringes and the freedom of choice creates a for-profit and convoluted insurance market that binds public health to the red tape. Individualistic lobbying efforts even restrict access to the results of medical research. In conclusion, the American healthcare system is a disease-treating system that overlooks prevention and provides no safety nets.

Ms. Rallis, however, saw no concrete causal relationship between the American Culture and its healthcare. In fact, she defined the American healthcare system as one in transition, with the constant desire to do better. She not just recognized the regional variation of a vast United States incomparable with its smaller European counterparts, but also applauded America’s superiority in preventive care. With the case study of the Affordable Care Act, she further observed an on-going long-term comprehensive reform that has already produced positive effects and demonstrated American Dream in action.

As seniority is reversed in this debate, Mr. Hinck opened up the floor with an account of Native Americans’ deplorable health conditions on Indian reservations. By ignoring these conditions and promoting a hegemonic middle-class lifestyle, America as a nation has failed. But Ms. Landau praised “the amazing feat of American society” in banning smoking everywhere and proving itself capable of stigmatizing unhealthy behaviors. President Whelan countered that gasoline, rather than smoking, poses a greater threat to public health. America’s dependency on cars due to its suburbanization leads to air pollution and obesity epidemic. Mr. Shaughnessy argued that America’s healthcare system based on geography suffers instead from structural reasons including rural poverty. America’s culture of competitiveness and personal accountability is what contribute to its strength. 

Mr. Hallisey, however, was still haunted by his “pain and suffering” being verbally insulted as an American outside of America and even as an American within America on Steel Day. Ms. Anneke Von Seeger (COL ’17) argued that the lack of freedom of choice and the lack of transparency prevented Americans from making informed decisions on healthcare. But Ms. Musa Bassey (COL ’18) stressed the lack of access to good healthcare for urban low-income communities. Distressed by the prejudice against autism, he argued that how you are born and most likely born determines your health.

Analogizing American healthcare to the DiCaprio without Oscar, Mr. Owen Hayes (COL ’18) asked the floor to compare America not just with developed countries but also with the world as a whole. Our frequent guest Ms. Rifah Huq then compared America to her home country Canada and found Americans uninformed about healthcare with no systematic health education at school. Ms. Hernick contested that the Canadian system has too long a waiting list for specialist treatment and emphasized American healthcare system’s larger capacity to cure the sickest around the world.

Focusing on America’s affluent population, Ms. Ludtke regretted their easy access to pain medication and high rates of underage drinking when they are driven to limits by the over-competitive American Dream. Joking about the Soviet Union, Mr. Smaliak was proud to have immigrated for American values. According to him, it was the “systematic failure of the Obama Administration” that produced healthcare problems. At this point, Vice President Thanki directed the floor to consider whether the American mentality of maximizing individual utility influences its disappointing healthcare results within G20 countries.

Mr. Vishwanathan informed his fellow Asian Americans the good news that they will outlive both Asians and Americans because of their healthier lifestyle as a new immigrant group. Their foreseeable longevity proves American culture non-homogeneous. But according to Ms. Weissman, the American mentality that “I’ll just take a pill and it will be just fine” does nothing to fix the current problems including food pollution and the subsequent obesity. Mr. Ma argued that America not just pioneered medical innovation but also exported its innovation to make the world a better place. Mr. Ellis countered that capitalism does not work anymore for those desperately in need of healthcare because “there will always be a demand.” But Mr. Mullaney believed in “more American ways of doing things.” He argued for competition across state lines instead of a potentially polarizing universal healthcare system.

Ms. Spira directed our attention to people’s apathetic response to the 1980s Aids epidemics and the insular world of those low on the socio-economic spectrum. According to her, the American Dream is inherently selfish and, in our freedom of choice, “we choose not to care.” Ms. Haag showed that Americans do care about the developing world with her own experience living in UAE. She rebuked that “we are all individuals and we matter.” But Mr. Ernst analogized America to the tragic Roman Empire and warned us against a competitiveness that corrupts the very ideal of liberty.

Reasserting the American healthcare system as one in transition, Ms. Rallis contested that the American Culture of competitiveness also promotes innovation and the current reform of the flawed healthcare system. The stress culture, on the other hand, is not closely tied to the three defined aspects of American Culture.

Mr. Wang, however, found American competitiveness valuing success over people, as embodied by the Asian American Tiger Mother. Under this mentality, the American healthcare system treats symptoms instead of patients and over-diagnoses for material profits. American individualism also leads to constant lobbying in research and the sad result that “we don’t know anything.” “Individually we all care,” he asked, “but does the society really care?

Rejecting true equality as communism, Ms. Sun embraced the American Dream for its honesty addressing existing problems and its spirit of upward social mobility. Comparing American healthcare with itself, she assured the Society that “you outrun yourself” and “should have more faith in yourself.” Living the American Dream and the freedom of speech, Ms. Sun confessed her love for this country and its people.

But Ms. Griffin reminded us that “when the marginalized community suffers, the society as a whole suffers.” She contrasted the cutting-edge research innovation and the lack of access to basic medical care. According to her, stress culture is a national issue and high medication costs are exploiting the ever-existing demand for healthcare. We still have a lot of work to do to reform the healthcare industry.

The Society then voted to determine the new member who had progressed the most in eloquence over the past year. I congratulate Mr. Shaughnessy for deservedly winning the Third Jessica Caroe Medal! And with a vote of 27-4-26, this resolution was decidedly negated in a patriotic zeal. But most importantly, huzzah for the two inductees who truly represented the spirit of this special debate with their consistent effort and remarkable progress in eloquence.


Xinlan Hu

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