A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

How to Not Prove a Point


The United Kingdom’s Department of Health may not have expected to face such harsh criticism during debate of overhauling the health care system here in the United States. As we’ve repeatedly said, neither President Obama nor the major health care bills in Congress call for replicating the U.K.’s government-run and government-provided system. But our neighbors across the pond would have to smile – or perhaps laugh out loud – at this claim, courtesy of the conservative Investor’s Business Daily:

IBD editorial, 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.

Stephen Hawking is British. Born in Oxford in 1942, the theoretical physicist, author of "A Brief History of Time," has held the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics post at the University of Cambridge (also in England) since 1979. Hawking was diagnosed several decades ago with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or Motor Neurone Disease. In April, he was hospitalized in Cambridge because of a chest infection, and he actually received medical care.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association calls Hawking "an exceptional case." Life expectancy for most with the illness is "two to five years, and around half will die within 14 months of diagnosis."

IBD may have been confused by Hawking’s speech – made possible by a synthesizer, which he praises on his Web site. But, he notes: "The only trouble is that it gives me an American accent."

Just as we were about to post this item, we noticed IBD had updated its editorial, taking out the reference to Hawking and saying: "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." For more on the editorial’s discussion of "end of life" counseling, see our article "False Euthanasia Claims."

Update, Aug. 13: England’s Guardian newspaper contacted Hawking about this incident and quoted him saying:

Hawking: I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS [National Health Service]. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.