charlene dill and the consequences of consequentialism

CHARLENE DILL, 32-year-old mother of three and part-time vacuum cleaner salesperson, collapsed and died on a stranger’s floor. She was at an appointment to try to sell a cleaner, one of jobs she worked to try to make ends meet for her family. Her death was a result of a documented heart condition and equally undocumented consequentialism that could have been prevented.

According to an article titled “This 32-Year-Old Florida Woman Is Dead Because Her State Refused To Expand Medicaid” by Tara Culp-Ressler for ThinkProgress (April 9, 2014):

“Dill was uninsured, and she went years without the care she needed to address her chronic conditions because she couldn’t afford it. Under the health reform law, Dill wasn’t supposed to lack insurance. She was supposed to have access to a public health plan through the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program

But Dill, a Florida resident, is one of the millions of Americans living in a state that has refused to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court ruled this provision to be optional. Those low-income people have been left in a coverage gap, making too much income to qualify for a public Medicaid plan but too little income to qualify for the federal subsidies to buy a plan on Obamacare’s private exchanges.

Florida has one of the highest uninsurance (sic) rates in the nation, and is home to a disproportionately large number of residents who struggle to afford health services. Nonetheless, lawmakers have continued to resist accepting generous federal funds to expand Medicaid to an estimated 750,000 low-income Floridians like Dill.”


Consequentialism: Photo of Charlene Dill with her heart medications.

Florida legislators have healthcare

In an article titled “GOP Sadism: Grayson’s Candid Talk About a Young Mother’s Death,” Richard Eskow for Campaign for America’s Future (April 17, 2014) asked why the Rep*blicans let a young mother of three die rather than accept federal funding for her health insurance?

“‘Sadism,’ according to Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL). That—along with extreme ideology and a certain amount of political expediency—explains why Florida Governor Rick Scott refused to accept Affordable Care Act funding to expand Medicaid coverage.

‘How (else) can you explain it? Republicans have been blinded by their own ideology. Every single member of the state legislature in Florida has healthcare—every single one of them—and yet they voted to deny that health coverage to almost a million other people.’

A Harvard study estimates that 8,000,000 people will remain uninsured as a result of this action by 25 governors. The study estimates that this will lead to more than 7,000 unnecessary deaths per year, a rate of roughly 19 people each day. That includes 1,158 deaths per year in the state of Florida as the result of Scott’s actions.

Scott made an enormous sum of money from the Medicare fraud committed by his corporation while he was CEO. And, as Grayson explains, Scott continues to make decisions as governor that benefit that corporation.”


Consequentialism: cartoon about Rep*blicans and healthcare by David Horsey.

Cartoon by the brilliant David Horsey.

Consequentialism, ends, and means

Merriam-Webster has one primary and three secondary definitions for ideology: the first—“visionary theorizing”—is not applicable in the above instance. It’s the three secondaries that meets our needs for an explanation for the above behavior of certain hardline governors—elected officials whose sworn duty is to see to the needs of their constituency.

These three secondary definitions are similar and apply directly to the use of the word ideology in the paragraphs above:

a) “a systematic body of concepts, especially about human life or culture”
b) “a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture”
c) “the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program”

Ideological thinking often leads to ideological behavior. This behavior often fits too comfortably into the belief that the ends justify the means, which can be referred to as consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgement about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act—or omission from acting—is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

In an extreme form, the idea of consequentialism is commonly encapsulated in the saying, ‘The ends justify the means.’ This means that if a goal is morally important enough, any method of achieving it is acceptable.

Consequentialist thinking/behavior is ethically and morally neutral: it can lead one (or one’s group) to positive or negative behavior for the group or for an entire society. An example of the former is self-sacrifice; an example of the latter is sacrifice of another.

An extreme instance of self-sacrifice for one’s beliefs is that of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who burned himself to death (self-immolation) on June 11, 1963, in front of the cameras of international journalists. He did this as an act of protest against the repression and persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam by President Ngo Dinh Diem, a man many considered an American puppet.

The so-called “Buddhist crisis” was jump-started by the murder of nine unarmed protestors by the South Vietnamese Army and related security forces the month prior. It eventually led to a military coup and the assassination of Diem in November 1963, three weeks before the assassination of another president, which made this extremely important event seem inconsequential. It was anything but!

An extreme instance of the sacrifice of others for one’s beliefs is the use of Jews as a scape-goat to focus the fears anxieties hatred of the Germans by Adolf Hitler and theNational Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis—good Christians all.

Or the sacrifice of Charlene Dill and “more than 7,000 unnecessary deaths per year” for one’s beliefs.


Consequentialism: Photo of protestors regarding the death of Charlene Dill.

One last reflection

If your own beliefs are in accord with those of one who is willing to self-sacrifice to achieve a set of goals, you see him or her as acting in the interest of others, of society, of the oppressed.

You see him as heroic.

If you are not in accord, you tend to be baffled by such behavior, or dismissive of it, as indicative of an unbalanced psyche—such as an anti-authoritarian.

If your own beliefs are in accord with those of one who is willing to sacrifice others to achieve a set of goals, you see him or her as displaying strength, faith, individualism.

You see him as heroic.

If you are not in accord, you tend to be baffled by such behavior, or dismissive of it, as indicative of an unbalanced psyche—such as a psychopath/sociopath, like Hitler or, well, you know where I’m headed with this . . .

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