Death Pulls Ahead
Suicide has replaced car accidents as the leading cause of death through injury in the United States, where the suicide rate rose 15 percent over 10 years. And America is not alone. In Greece the suicide rate among men increased by 24 percent between 2007 and 2009. In Italy the rate related to economic difficulties increased 52 percent between 2005 and 2010.
Why? Although the evidence is inconclusive, most point to the failing economy and its social and psychological consequences: weakening bonds of family and friendship, damaged self-esteem and the shattered hopes of the unemployed. In a year that has already shown the destructive force of firearms, guns are the handiest means for committing suicide. While suicide is generally associated with teenagers and the elderly, since 1999 the rate among those between 35 and 64 rose by nearly 30 percent in the United States, especially among men in their 50s.
In 12 years and two wars, military suicides hit a record 350 in 2012, surpassing the number of troops killed in Afghanistan. Though medical problems like multiple concussions, sexual or physical abuse, family stress, alcohol, failed relationships and drugs may combine to push the victim over the edge, society’s failure to fulfill its obligation to intervene is even more critical. Government-sponsored job and education programs can give stability to veterans whose living situations are fragile. In the U.S. military, those with symptoms of depression can be better monitored. And with proper leadership, a combined effort of churches, private clubs, universities, schools and the media should coordinate every available means to educate and reach out to these isolated men and women and lovingly pull them back from the brink.
A Bumpy Road to Obamacare
Only six months remain before the most controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 takes effect: the mandate that all Americans carry health insurance. Observers are forecasting a bumpy first year. The government must convince state governments highly critical of the plan to set up health care exchanges and expand Medicaid. Young people too must be persuaded to buy health care coverage, even though they may now be in good health. And questions remain about how the new requirement will affect small businesses at a time when the economy is still struggling.
Implementing a major piece of social legislation is a complex process. It is worrisome that three years after the law was adopted, lawmakers are reluctant to make changes. Fine-tuning is a necessary step for any large piece of legislation. Medicare was amended twice following its initial passage, and Congress voted to make changes to President Ronald Reagan’s immigration reform law two years after it was adopted. Yet the fierce debate surrounding Obamacare may preclude any such process of revision. Republicans want to repeal the law, while Democrats are loathe to revisit a heated debate that still divides much of the country. The polarization of Congress may score another casualty.
At the moment, both sides are content to wait. Repub-lican leaders predict calamity in 2014, while the White House hopes that public opinion will gradually turn in its favor as the law takes effect. It may take time for both sides to move beyond the fiery rhetoric, to let political tempers cool and get down to the work of making the legislation work. That process is taking longer than it should, but the goal remains an eminently worthy one: health care coverage for 48 million uninsured Americans and affordable premiums for America’s businesses and families.
Faith in the System
At least in theory, the “chaplain of the month” at the town board meetings in Greece, N.Y., can have any religious affiliation—or none. In practice, since 1999 the vast majority of chaplains have offered prayers rooted firmly in the Christian tradition; about two-thirds have used “uniquely Christian language,” like, say, “Jesus Christ.” This upset two town residents, who argued that the prayers violated the prohibition against government-established religion. They sued.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sympathized with the residents’ complaint, and the judge argued that the practice “must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint.” The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
These days, lawsuits sometimes seem almost as deeply embedded in the American way of life as the First Amendment. But settling this matter out of court could have offered all parties a satisfactory result—one more in line with the spirit of our nation. Instead of trying to stop the prayer, the residents could have worked with the town to call upon chaplains from various faith backgrounds, as well as nonbelievers, to offer blessings, prayers or just a moment of silence at the meetings. The time, money and effort devoted to the courtroom could have been used to promote interfaith dialogue and sensitivity in the town and to increase awareness of our pluralistic society. Not everyone subscribes to “In God We Trust,” but in a case like this, the town’s residents would do well to have a bit more faith in one another.