December 10, 2004


Losing Patients: A film questions Canada’s nationalized health care. (John R. Graham, November 2004, Reason)

The Barbarian Invasions, recently released on DVD by Buena Vista Home Video, offers a disturbing vision of state-run medicine. The Canadian film won two awards at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival (best screenplay and best actress) and took home this year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film. It is the story of a man with a terminal disease who renews his relationships with his friends and family, especially his adult son. Much of the action takes place in a hospital in Montreal, Quebec, where director and screenwriter Denys Arcand dissects the Canadian health care system.

The film opens with a nun struggling down the corridor of a crowded ward to administer Holy Communion. Patients, health professionals, even electricians, are tripping over each other, packed into an environment of general confusion. And yet there is another floor of the hospital that is completely closed, thanks to a government directive.

The dying man’s son is a successful investment banker in London. He’s the kind of guy who can wriggle around anything. First he wrangles his way into the hospital’s management offices without a pass and corners the manager, who is completely isolated from the chaos outside. He offers her a bribe to get his father moved out of the zoo and into a private space on the empty floor. She quietly takes the bribe but points out that she can do nothing without the hospital employees’ union. The son pays off the union boss to prepare a private room on the empty floor. Painters, carpenters, and other workers quickly make it up.

Then, because there is virtually no access to PET (positron emission tomography) scans in Canada, the banker takes his father to Vermont to get one. One of the son’s friends in Baltimore -- one of many Canadian doctors who have emigrated to the U.S. -- examines the scan and informs him his father will have a much better chance in Baltimore than in Montreal. Remarkably, the father will have none of it: "I voted for socialized health care," he proclaims, "and I’m prepared to suffer the consequences!"

We'd like to try having a discussion of this one next week, so if you see it at Blockbuster you might want to give it a whirl.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2004 7:47 PM

Coupling it with 'The Hospital' (starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg) would be an entertaining double-bill.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at December 10, 2004 7:55 PM

Cinematic or political?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 10, 2004 10:30 PM

Hey, if you're poor and never get sick, the Canadian system is great.

Posted by: Randall Voth at December 10, 2004 11:01 PM

Off the subject, but if you haven't considered Health Savings Accounts take a look here:

Posted by: Genecis at December 11, 2004 11:20 AM

Any country considering adopting a single-payer health care system like Canada's should be made to sit down - person by person - to watch that French-language movie.

It's hilarious and tragic, much like "Fargo" was for Gopher Staters.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at December 12, 2004 12:12 AM