Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Charity and Health Care

Well, the Komen Foundation, that darling of the gifting class and people who like pink, let out quite a loud, smelly one this week with their decision to stop donating to Planned Parenthood. The odor wafted quickly through the social media and rightly drew major attention to their leaders’ conservative agenda to keep women away from anyone who might at some time have spoken to someone about abortion.

The resultant shitstorm, and Komen’s turn-about have been amply documented, and I have nothing to add to the immediate story—beyond mentioning that most seem not to have noticed that Komen hasn’t said they will continue funding PP past their current pledge, just that they will let PP “apply” for further grants.

Here’s what nobody’s raised so far: This is what happens when you depend on private charities to provide basic human services! Private groups (eg, Komen, Planned Parenthood) by definition are not accountable to the public. Their aid can shift at the whim of the directors, members and donors of the group (case in point), and often comes with strings—religious ones with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Salvation Army. And even with the most even-handed, right-minded (not right-winged), ecumenical groups, their ability to keep operating depends completely on their ability to continually attract voluntary donations. Hey—this is how you put on a community arts show or send the high-school band to march at Disney World. But it’s a completely bogus, finger-in-the-dike approach to providing fundamental human needs. Conservatives like to recount the all-too-numerous “success” stories of private charity, how somebody had cancer and lost their job and all their neighbors pitched in and had a bake sale or something to pay for the person’s chemo. Yaay. What happens if the neighbors don’t like you very much, or even know you at all? What if your neighbors are poor? If they’re tapped out from donating money to care for the 3 other people on the block who have cancer? These aren’t success stories, these are failure stories. Failure of our society as a whole to face up to its responsibilities and instead hope that somebody else will take care of the problem. Sick and can’t afford care? You can always beg on the street.