Stephen Hawking Still Alive

The British defend their health-care system.

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The British are rising to defend their health-care system, which has recently been subject to attack by the anti-Obamacare crowd. The line that finally stung them enough to respond was the following comment, first published in an Investor's Business Daily editorial on July 31:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Over a week passed before this caught the attention of the leading left-leaning bloggers on Monday, when AJC's Jay Bookman, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and The New Republic's Jason Zengerle picked it up in quick succession.

  • IBD Lied, declared Klein, pointing out, as everyone had begun to do, that Stephen Hawking has lived and continues to live in England.
  • No, They're Just Stupid, Zengerle suggested. "This actually raises a bit of a philosophical conundrum. If the IBD writer believed Hawking was American, [...] can the writer be accused of lying when he/she writes that Hawking would have been left to die by the National Health Service?"

While Paul Krugman, among others, also caught wind of this story before the close of the day, the real fun came Tuesday, when the British began to weigh in.

  • Hawking Is, Um, British, the Spectator's Alex Massie summarized, adding that "Hawking hasn't been bumped off by some heartless NHS bureaucrat. At least, not yet." He also questioned the broader criticisms of the British National Health Service, while acknowledging that there was much to improve. The difference between the systems, he argued, is psychological: "Fundamentally [...] in Britain you worry what will happen when you fall ill; many Americans worry about what will happen if you fall ill."
  • Indeed I Am  Hawking himself emerged to confirm his continued existence, thanks to the "high-quality treatment" in the NHS. "Something here is worthless," added the reporting Hugh Muir in the Guardian, referencing the original editorial, "and it's not him."
  • This Is Distinctly Awkward  The Guardian ran a separate story on the "delicate" dealings of British diplomats "in correcting falsehoods while trying to stay out of a vicious domestic dogfight over the future of American health policy." British NHS officials have reacted to the "Orwellian" label with "dismay."
  • Point Taken  The Inevestor's Business Daily editorial currently has an Editor's Note at the top: "This version corrects the original editorial which  implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK."

In the meantime, however, Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have taken the opportunity to discuss the British system seriously.

Update, 1:11 p.m: User-generated opinion from more Brits defending NHS flooded Twitter earlier this morning, while TPM's Josh Marshall continued to publish reader stories of NHS successes: "Considering," he argued, "that in the US many are going around claiming that NHS amounts to a system of wide scale euthanasia it's worth countering some of the bamboozlement with some real life stories."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.