Recalling Soylent Green
by Paul R. Hollrah
We all have a movie or two… perhaps three or four… that have left lasting impressions on us. .
As a child, the first movie I ever saw was the 1943 film version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Claude Raines and Susanna Foster. Since my parents were poor sharecroppers in east-central Missouri and were the farthest thing from what one might call movie “buffs,” I’m sure it was not the subject matter of the film that caused them to approach the box office on one of our occasional trips into town. I’m sure they must have found themselves with an extra fifty cents in their pockets and decided it would be a good experience for my sisters and me to see a movie.
I was just nine years old at the time and I will never forget the scene in which Susanna Foster approached Claude Raines from behind and ripped the mask from his horribly disfigured face. I saw that scene over and over again in my dreams for many years thereafter.
Another film that made a lasting impression on me was the 1963 film recreating the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925. The title of the film was Inherit the Wind and starred Spencer Tracy in the Clarence Darrow role and Fredric March in the William Jennings Bryan role. Having been subjected to eight years of Lutheran parochial school religious indoctrination during the first eight years of my formal education, and being forced to swear to certain elements of church dogma at my confirmation exercises at age 13… teachings that I had never been able to fully accept on faith alone… represented the greatest trauma of my young life.
The courtroom drama in which Darrow and Bryan debated the story of Creation, as described in the Book of Genesis, and the theory of evolution, as suggested in Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, was a perfect template for the debate that had been going on in my heart and in my mind for some 25 years.
But it wasn’t until I read some of the provisions of Barack Obama’s healthcare reform proposal, H.R. 3200, that the 1973 film, Soylent Green, came rushing back to my memory. The film starred Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson and told the story of life in NewYork in the year 2022 when the city’s exploding population had grown from today’s 8 million to 40 million. With insufficient housing to shelter the massive population, every available nook and cranny was packed to overflowing with the homeless and impoverished and what little food was available created almost daily food riots.
Fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables were not available in the food stores and most of the world’s population subsisted on processed foods called Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, advertised as “high energy vegetable concentrates.” But the Soylent Corporation’s newest and most popular food product was a small green wafer called Soylent Green.
As the plot unfolds, Robert Thorn (Heston), a New York City police detective, is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson, a member of the Soylent Corporation board of directors. When Thorn questions Simonson’s live-in girlfriend about the murder he learns that Simonson had been deeply disturbed in the days and weeks before his death, even to the point of taking her to church.
Meanwhile, as Thorn begins to develop critical evidence in the case, his elderly partner and roommate, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) uncovers information connecting Simonson’s murder to activities of the Soylent Corporation that he finds almost impossible to believe. What he finds is so incredible, so disturbing, that he cannot live with what he knows. Instead, he opts for government-assisted suicide, a process known euphemistically as “going home.”
At a local state-operated clinic Roth is unclothed, placed on a comfortable bed, and offered a lethal cocktail that will allow him to die peacefully and painlessly. To ease his mind he is allowed to select the kind of music he would like to hear, and as he is dying he is treated to scenes of an unspoiled pre-21st century Earth flashed on a panoramic screen above and around his bed. As Thorn watches from a nearby control room he sees scenes of flora and fauna that he had never seen before, or even imagined.
Then, with his last dying breath, Roth begs Thorn to continue his investigation to uncover the horrible truth of Simonson’s death and the work of the Soylent Corporation.
As his friend’s body is removed to make room for the next assisted suicide, Thorn makes his way to the basement of the clinic where he sees dozens of human bodies being loaded into the back of garbage trucks. He climbs atop the truck containing Roth’s body and just minutes later the truck enters the heavily-guarded entrance to the factory where Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and Soylent Green wafers are manufactured.
It is then that he learns the horrible secret that led to Simonson’s murder and his friend’s state-assisted suicide. The most popular foodstuff in the world, the little green wafers that fed more than half the world’s population, were made from human bodies.
What brought Edward G. Robinson’s state-assisted suicide to mind was a reading of Section 1233 of H.R. 3200, Obama’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. Section 1233 – Advance Care Planning Consultation, requires individuals over a certain age to submit to an “end of life” consultation at least once every five years. Section 1233 reads, in part, as follows:
“… the term `advance care planning consultation’ means a consultation between the individual and a practitioner… regarding advance care planning… if the individual involved has not had such a consultation within the last 5 years. Such consultation shall include the following:
“(E) An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative (pain relief) care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.”
One of the Obama administration’s top medical care advisers is Oxford- and Harvard-educated bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of Chicago political hack and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. .
Writing in the June 2009 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Emanuel said, “Calls for changing physician training and culture are perennial and usually ignored. However, the progression in end-of-life care mentality from ‘do everything’ to more palliative care shows that change in physician norms and practices is possible.”
According to a July 31 article in Investors Business Daily (IBD), titled “How House Bill Runs Over Grandma, “Emanuel sees a problem in the Hippocratic Oath doctors take to ‘first do no harm,’ compelling them ‘as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of cost or effect on others,’ thereby avoiding the inevitable move toward ‘socially sustainable, cost-effective care.’ “
In other words, one of Obama’s top medical advisors thinks it’s inevitable that we move toward a system wherein: a) government bureaucrats would decide which patients could receive life-extending healthcare, based on their age, their medical history, and their general prognosis, or b) elderly citizens would be placed on a waiting list to receive life-extending procedures… which they would probably never receive because of the inevitable shortage of doctors under the Obama healthcare delivery system.
IBD reports that, “in a June 24 ABC infomercial on health care broadcast from the White House, Obama confessed that ‘if it’s my family member, if it’s my wife, if it’s my children, if it’s my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.’ “
Since Obama has neither parents nor grandparents, he can afford to be very magnanimous about their healthcare needs. But those of us who actually have parents and grandparents tend to see things a bit differently.
Doctor-assisted suicide is now legal in three states: in Oregon and Washington, by legislative act, and in Montana, by court directive. In a July 28, 2008 Fox News story it was reported that some terminally ill patients in Oregon who had sought help from the state were denied treatment and offered doctor-assisted suicide instead.
One prostate cancer patient, 53-year-old Randy Stroup of Dexter, was uninsured and unable to pay for expensive chemotherapy treatments. However, after seeking help from Oregon’s state-administered health plan he received a letter saying that the state would not cover his expensive chemotherapy treatments, but it would cover the cost of physician-assisted suicide. That same letter, which follows guidelines established by the state legislature, which has the same liberal Democratic political makeup as the U.S. Congress, has been sent to other terminal patients throughout Oregon.
If those things are happening in Oregon, and perhaps Washington, how far behind can the rest of America be? It is life imitating art and it might be helpful for us all to recall Soylent Green.