The drug disaster 

Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat who represents the eastern part of Arkansas, is one of the few members of Congress who have strongly criticized President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program. He got to do it again when he was asked by the Democratic leader in the House to make a national radio speech March 26.

He called the drug program “disastrous.” You don’t hear or read or talk much about the program because most Americans aren’t 65 years old. Well, Berry talks about it because he will be 65 in four months, he used to be a pharmacist and he knows that the monarchs of the pharmaceutical companies got to draw up the program because they voted for George Bush.

The program started Jan. 1, but only 28.8 million of the 41.7 million eligible in the country and 246,218 of the 459,866 eligible in Arkansas have signed up. The deadline is May 15, and if you don’t sign up by then, you will have to pay more. I’ve read about it, talked to doctors and attended meetings but I still can’t figure it out. And don’t laugh about that if you, like me, don’t know what a “formulary” is.

When you sign up, you aren’t dealing with the government but with one of hundreds of private companies that have designed prescription drug plans. There are about 15 in Arkansas, and some of them offer as many as six different plans you can choose from.

In his speech, Berry said that he and his staff had received “thousands of calls from desperate seniors who did not deserve to have their own government do this to them.” In the first month, many Arkansas druggists didn’t get reimbursed for selling the medicines at the new program’s lower prices, but the humane pharmacists went ahead and sold the medicine to their customers for the new lower prices.

Berry said: “I will never forget one conversation I had with a pharmacist from DeWitt, who had given away $60,000 in free medications in just one week because he knew his customers might die if they did not receive their refill that day.” Berry said that the president giving the country this kind of drug program is the equivalent of what FEMA gave to the people in the New Orleans flood.

The Bush drug program passed easily through Congress since Republicans control both houses. But Berry has introduced a bill that would: (1) Extend the sign-up period six months to give us seniors more time to understand the program; (2) remove the 1-cent tax to be put on anyone who waits to sign up after May 15, and (3) create one more program to be run by the government that could force pharmaceutical companies to give lower prices for the medicines, just as the Veterans Administration does now.

Keep at it, congressman.

Recently there was an article in the Arkansas Baptist newspaper that indicated that a person who committed suicide couldn’t get to Heaven. It was written by Byron Eubanks, chairman of the philosophy department at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

He wrote that the Bible says very little about this, but he says that man thinks suicide is an “unforgivable sin.” He thinks that since “suicide is a person’s last action, one cannot repent and ask forgiveness for it” and that “anyone who dies with unforgiven sin must go to hell.” While he tended to write as though this was all true, he completed his article saying: “But only God knows what is in the mind and heart of a person to the point of suicide. Humility requires that we leave judgments about eternity to Him.”

I thought of the piece later when I read a story in the Democrat-Gazette about a 38-year-old, sick Van Buren man who was threatening his wife and a deputy sheriff with a shotgun. This caused the officer to shoot him to death. His wife said that he had wanted to die but wouldn’t kill himself because he thought if he did he couldn’t go to Heaven.

Catholic friends had once told me that their church used to believe that way to the extent that priests would not hold a funeral for someone who had committed suicide. But back in the 1960s when Vatican II began modernizing the church, this idea was disposed of.

I’ve been a Methodist all my life so I decided to discuss this with Larry Powell, one of my favorite Methodist preachers who is now retired and living in Conway.

Powell told me that suicide was the intentional termination of one’s own life, such as when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem knowing that it was an intentional act of suicide. Also, Powell asked if Heaven should be denied for a person at wits’ end who jumps off a bridge, a convict hanging himself in his cell before the executioners came to get him, a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers, or a father who jumped in front of a train to save the life of his child?

“In my opinion,” he said, “to say that suicide, or the intentional termination of one’s life, is a sin is to discount the condition of one’s soul (which we cannot know) as well as one’s intentional motivation.”

It makes sense to me.


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