The evolution of healthcare: Out of the damned committee room, and into the damned silicon

arts-graphics-2007_1182015aEventually, your sorry old arse, along with its worn-down operating components, will be due for a major fail. You don’t need to be Dr. Oz, or even stare at his podcasts, to know this is true.

Your human form, consistent with nature’s plan, is breaking down, or seizing up, or, to use the medical terminology, cacking out — almost as if all your biological parts were designed by the General Motors Corporation, which conspired to deprive you of some essential 59-cent meat-sprocket.

In Canada, these occasional thoughts of one’s mortality may lead one to proclaim, “Thank our merciful heavens for the Health Council of Canada, the federal-provincial coordinating agency created to establish nationwide standards for medicare.”

Actually, no one ever said any such thing about the Health Council of Canada, which set out in 2004 to achieve transformative change, especially regarding universal access to pharmaceuticals. In the end, it delivered only quantities of earnest bafflegab through a website, and was pretty much ignored.

And now it turns out the council was just as ephemeral as any other planned-obsolescence entity. We learned this after it ceased to exist at the end of last month (03/31/14), its decade-long mission finally expired. This is another way of saying that the federal government, which shelled out $41 billion in healthcare transfer payments to the provinces and territories over the past 10 years, couldn’t justify continuing to foot the bill for yet one more puanatomy1blic-sector bureaucracy positioned somewhere between providers and patients, out in the thicket among the fixers, sneak-thieves, long-con hustlers, and academic grifters.

The passing of the council saddened only the Canadian Health Coalition, a brand new self-appointed group consisting of many of the familiar faces from the permanent floating dice-game. (Say, isn’t that Roy Romanow? Do you suppose his hair-dye is covered by medicare?)

The coalition’s seeming purpose is to restore the council, or recreate something very much like it — and if this sentence doesn’t cause your eyes to roll backward, you probably need to try to get on your ophthalmologist’s wait-list.

The coalition seems to be asking, “How will Canadians ever overcome the status quo, unless we put everything back exactly the way it was?”

MC900438790That is all symptomatic of the hindsight view. Ten years ago, when the council came into being, Stephen Harper wasn’t Prime Minister, Facebook didn’t exist, same-sex marriage was illegal in most provinces, you could still fire up a cigar in a Duckworth Street pub, and the signs outside Trudeau Airport said Dorval International.

While the council was talking about the importance of change — and talking, and talking, and talking, and participating in long talk-filled luncheon sessions — the world was, of all the crazy things, changing.

As for healthcare in Canada? Hm, maybe not changing all that much.

So, you can call it blasphemy, but right now I’m shifting my attention toward the emerging trends in healthcare, and away from the various Canuck consortia devoted to assuring ever-increasing public funding to noodge for a cheap and dirty patch-over of a broken-down old scheme.

An example of these emerging ideas? Jamie Bartlett, writing in London’s Telegraph, finds something intriguing about the group calling itself the British Institute of Posthuman Studies (BIOPS), which, according to its mission statement, “…is a team of dedicated people who have come together to found the first think-tank in the U.K. that aims to popularize transhumanism, a thought movement where the most innovative, cutting edge technologies meet moral and philosophical concerns.” Or, as the Telegraph headline summarizes: “‘Transhumanists’ are planning to upload your mind to a memory stick…”

Ray Kurzweil is a Big Thinker who has been promulgating this sci-fi concept of Human 2.0 for years. He is currently on the payroll of Google in Mountain View, Calif., and is an enduring Jaggeresque rock-star of the Transhuman movement. It takes nothing to dismiss Kurzweil and his fellow visionaries as Silicon Valley kooks, and Bartlett’s inventory of their projects invites instant skepticism — including, as it does, “mind uploading, megascale engineering, molecular manufacturing, autonomous self-replicating robotics, cybernetics, space colonization, virtual reality, and cryonics.”

Pausing for breath, Bartlett asks, on behalf of all of us: “If we can upgrade ourselves with technology, why not replace the body entirely?”

Fair question, but my fellow Canadians will spot the problem, won’t you? Because, in Canada, as things stand, healthcare is the exclusive responsibility of our provincial governments. These are the same people who can’t be trusted to order up something as prosaic as an air-ambulance, or a medical-record storage system, or a skid of tongue depressors, without turning it into a carnival cash-grab for the politically connected and their patronage-hungry chums.

Therefore I don’t envision ever trusting the Ontario health ministry to go out and find a suitable upgrade replacement for grandpa’s creaky old grandpa-body. (“Look, lady,” the delivery man from the Ministry of Transhuman Affairs is bound to tell you. “It says right here on this e-form that I’m supposed to deliver your father’s clown to this address. I don’t know nothin’ about no clone.”)

You see, under our single-payer healthcare tradition, it’s always about the egalitarian high-minded doctrine of socialized medicine — right up to the point where it becomes time for the consultants to negotiate their per-diems. That’s when you want to keep one of your hands clasped over the other hand, with both tightly positioned over your wallet.

As it applies to Canada, the best that might be said of the BIOPS-inspired prospect of uploading minds to a memory stick is simply this: When it comes to the minds of various Canadian council and coalition and committee members, you sure won’t require a very big stick.

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