Exploring Human Potential

One Year After January 6th: A Role For Restorative Justice and Universal Health Care In America.

Posted on | January 6, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

“We’re better than this” is the common refrain heard from many political leaders following the deadly assault on our democracy on January 6th. We hear empty appeals for blind appeasement from the likes of Kevin McCarthy in the interest of “bringing our country together.” But for those of us who study medical history, pursuing this course takes our nation in exactly the wrong direction.

Rather, the model we must follow is the model of Germany in 1945, or South Africa in 1995. In both cases, strict legal and public accountability (retributive justice) were married with fundamental expansion of universal social services to rebuild confidence and trust in their government’s ability to assure safety and security, and an equal playing field for all of their citizens (restorative justice).

In sorting through the legacy of Hitler’s regime in Germany, the Allied forces established the International Military Tribunal.  One of the series of trials, opened on November 19, 1945 in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, delved into egregious examples of medical criminality, including Nazi experimentation on human subjects. These trials are often cited as an example of “retributive justice.” Of 23 defendants, 7 were hanged, 7 acquitted, and the rest given sentences of from 10 years to life in prison.

These judgments were conducted under the direction of U.S. judges and prosecutors and fully compliant with U.S. standards of criminal procedure. Yet another 25 years would pass before any of the 10 agreed-upon medical ethics research standards were integrated into US trial law.

Legal scholars such as Michelle Miller at Cornell Law School attribute this lapse to the self-regarding biases of leaders within the Medical Industrial Complex. As Jay Katz, a physician and professor of law at Yale wrote in 1992 of the Nuremberg directives, “It was a good code for barbarians, but an unnecessary code for ordinary physician-scientists.” In other words, it was assumed that American medicine’s noble professionalism was adequate to ensure appropriate ethical standards.

Adding to the irony, at the very same moment that the leaders of the Medical Industrial Complex were rejecting President’s Truman’s 1946 call for a national health plan as “socialized medicine,” our military under the Marshall Plan was fast at work creating highly successful national health plans for our two main vanquished archenemies, Germany and Japan. We were willing to allocate precious taxpayer resources to assure this expression of “restorative justice.”

An analysis of the German and Japanese programs made some years later by the Rand Corporation summed up the Marshall Plan’s rationale: “Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population. The health status of those living in the country has a direct impact on the nation’s construction and development, and history teaches us it can be a tool in capturing goodwill of the nation’s residents.”

A similar restorative approach was utilized in South Africa in 1995. Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted over 1000 public hearings on their road to a free democracy, offering amnesty to those who publicly admitted past crimes of sectarian violence and asked for forgiveness. Less recognized, Mandela simultaneously instituted fundamental social service reform, including free primary level public health care for all in 1996 serviced in over 350 newly constructed health clinics by 1997.

Now a quarter of a century later, Mandela’s words, delivered that day, continue to resonate on our own shores.

He said: “With our freedom won, we faced the challenge of using our limited resources to provide the majority of our people with adequate housing, education and health services. These things are regarded as basic human needs anywhere in the world and yet most of our people had been denied them…

“Because there were very few hospitals and clinics, only those with money and who were healthy enough could travel the long distances to get proper medical help. This was the situation of millions of South Africans across the country.

“One of the most important steps the government has taken to deal with this crisis in our nation’s health was to introduce free universal primary health care. Since April last year, for the first time in our history, basic health-care has become available to everybody without cost. And to make that health-care easily accessible, to especially the poor, we launched the clinic-building programme so that there would be a clinic within walking distance – five kilometres – of every household.

“Primary Health Care uses measures for both prevention and cure, like immunisation, family planning and health education. But in order for these programmes to work we also need to make sure that communities have adequate shelter, employment, sanitation and clean water supply. Poverty and lack of essential services are the greatest threat to our nation’s health.”

The failures of this nation’s health care system have been well documented, and now include the mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, certain to claim more than a million American lives. As with Germany in 1945, and South Africa in 1995, creation of reliable health access for all would assist our troubled nation in her efforts to address racism, disinformation, and the current erosion of public trust – problems that are egregious and deep-seated.

Criminal investigations of the January 6th insurrectionists are well underway and appropriate expressions of retributive justice. No one is above the law. At the same time, movement toward universal health care in America, as an expression of restorative justice, and a means to begin to address societal financial, educational and health inequities, would be a logical next step if we truly wish to “bring our nation together.”


2 Responses to “One Year After January 6th: A Role For Restorative Justice and Universal Health Care In America.”

  1. Laura Hudgins
    January 6th, 2022 @ 5:53 pm

    Thank you for educating us. I read Code Blue, so I think I have read this, and yet, our country seems to be going in the wrong direction. The wealth gap is aggravating the oligarchs. The other ~90% of us are swimming to stay afloat. It is hard to know what we can do to pull our country in a progressive direction. I work in public education and public health, and progress is slow. Laura Hudgins

  2. Mike Magee
    January 10th, 2022 @ 9:56 am

    Thank you, Laura. The challenge for all of us at this point is to not get discouraged. In a session with Congress commemorating Jan. 6 last week, historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham share their perspective, which helps put our challenges today in perspective. I have just posted the review on Hcom and welcome your thoughts in response. Many thanks for your work and commitment on behalf of our nation’s health! Best, Mike

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