Saturday, August 9, 2008

Read it and Weep: " In Switzerland, An Easier Path For The Disabled"

A recent series on National Public Radio explored health and social programs in Switzerland. The final piece, "In Switzerland, An Easier Path For The Disabled", compares the life of a family in Switzerland who has a 16-year old daughter with autism to the life of a family in Massachusetts that includes two teenage daughters on the autism spectrum.

Switzerland, like many other European countries, has a cradle-to-grave public support system for families. Switzerland has a government-paid disability insurance system that pays for education, behavioral therapy, household help, special equipment and so on. Just as important, social workers and caregivers share responsibility with parents for ensure that children are taken care of through the life span.

The mother in the Swiss family is an ex-patriate American, and she feels very fortunate to live in Switzerland. According to an article that accompanies the broadcast:

But as Tara grew into an adolescent, Wallace [her mother] began to get anxious. She wondered what would happen to Tara after she and her husband died. So Wallace went to see her social worker.

"She said the really key thing to understand is, you don't have to worry," Wallace recalls. "The way the Swiss government approaches this is that every person who is a Swiss citizen has the right to be able to live decently.

"For me, that was just like such a huge wave of relief — to have somebody tell you, you don't ever have to worry about how your child is going to be cared for."

The featured family in Massachusetts, in contrast, feels fortunate that they have the personal resources to provide for their daughters, since there are few public services available - and the state of Massachusetts offers more than many. These parents are also concerned about the future of their children and in response purchased a 10-000 square foot former convent as their home. The long-range plan is to convert it into a group home for their daughters and other disabled adults and staff.

While I admire the creativity of these parents, it just plain depresses me that such heroics are necessary to provide for our children in the United States, while other countries have extensive systems in place to care for people with disabilities. And perhaps just as important, the culture of these counties is based on the premise that of course families shouldn't need to go bankrupt to give their children necessary educational, therapeutic and recreational opportunities.

I know there are folks out there who will shudder at the ills of socialized medicine, but it doesn't seem to me like the free market health system is working for our families. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Hi Carol, I am ready to move to Switzerland today. I feel like so much of what I have been able to get for our son has been by word of mouth advice from other moms, digging around information systems, persistence, persitence, etc. etc. And I know that there are very deserving kids who get virtually nothing if their parents are easilty intimidated or have busy work schedules. A sad and wrong situation..................Pam

PS. grab me a box of tissues. Among the political candidates, John Edwards had among the best reputations for dedication to disability issues. But we won't get anywhere anytime if he lies.

Carol said...

Yes, I was also bummed to hear about John Edwards. Argh!

Sylvie said...

I wonder what it will truly take to overcome the bizarre neo-Darwinist attitude towards universal health care that prevails in this country. You'd think that illness and disability were moral faults the way that "socialized" medicine is impugned, and that being plunged into crippling debt were the proper consequence for lacking the sturdy constitution that of course kept the pioneers from getting sick.. EVER! Is it the same belligerent resistance to change that prevents the US from doing sensible things like shifting to a decimal system of weights and measures? When you think about it, it's amazing that we even have social security (and we all know what some people would like to do to that).

babs m said...

Well the answer seems obvious: parents just need to buckle down and decide they'll never die. It's that easy. Sign here. :)

Anonymous said...

I am ready to move to, I am never going to die (LOL).


Maya said...

For sure I miss that safety blanket of my home land here in the US.

Susan said...

We've lived in the US; we now live in Ireland and I'm thankful. Speech therapy, free medical care, occupational therapy, disability payments, even an annual respite grant every year so we can go away together, all of it's free.

The taxes we pay are a fright, of course, and our cost of living is generally higher: but at least we know that if we need help, it's there.

Definitely a voting issue!

Carol said...

Susie, you are so lucky to have experienced both sides of the pond! It really gives you a chance to weigh all the pros and cons.

Maya - I'm curious, where is your home land?? Do you think you will go back?