Point of View

Take Willoughby's plea deal on Moral Monday arrest? No, thanks

September 26, 2013 

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Dr. Charles van der Horst is arrested during a Moral Monday protest in May.

TRAVIS LONG — Staff photo by Travis Long

Although I have never met Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, according to news reports he has kindly offered me a deal. To avoid Wake County’s mounting court costs, he wants me to forgo my court date Monday and instead perform 25 hours of community service at an agency of my choice. Then my record would be wiped clean.

You see, on May 6, I was arrested in front of the appropriately colored golden doors of the N.C. General Assembly chambers. I was charged with three misdemeanors: failing to disperse when ordered to by the chief of the Capitol Police, illegally assembling with three or more people and singing, shouting and waving a placard. More than 900 other people decided to join me in the pokey. If all of us Moral Monday arrestees go to trial, the Wake County Courthouse will be a very busy place for the next several years.

I am not going to accept his nice offer as I did nothing wrong. I did not resist arrest, and the legislature continued its sessions without interruption. All that we protesters did was shine a light in the darkness of the actions of Gov. Pat McCrory, Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Phil Berger.

In 1979 in Boston, as a newly minted physician I took an oath: “In Thine Eternal Providence Thou hast chosen me to watch over the life and health of Thy creatures.” What McCrory, Tillis, Berger and their henchman did was to harm my patients, including many Wake residents. This issue isn’t some abstract discussion of tax policy or “job creation” about which reasonable people can disagree. The laws passed by the General Assembly and signed by McCrory will result in the deaths of hundreds of North Carolinians over the next several years. If I saw someone assaulting one of my patients, I would immediately intervene.

That is why I decided to protest. Thousands of others have shown up repeatedly at protests around the state, sometimes driving hundreds of miles.

By refusing to expand Medicaid to a half-million working, taxpaying North Carolinians, Republicans believe they are being pennywise. The reality is that they are financially pound foolish. These uninsured patients will still show up for treatment at our hospitals. By law the hospitals are required to provide their care – they just won’t be paid for it. This will harm hospitals financially, increase the private medical insurance rates of everyone else approximately 3 percent and fill beds with patients who would not be in the hospital if they had access to preventive services.

Not only is this law fiscally nutty, it is also cruel as a certain number of these people will die for want of preventive and lifesaving medicines. For instance, undiagnosed and untreated high blood pressure will lead to needless strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease, driving up the medical costs for all of us.

McCrory, Tillis and Berger also cut funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program by 25 percent. This will deny life-saving medications to hundreds of patients, increasing costs for all of us as they become ill and require hospitalization. Although McCrory, Tillis and Berger say they are pro-life, there are apparently constraints on how “pro” they are. By decreasing funding for poor pregnant women by a third, they have denied care to hundreds of women, which will directly lead to an increase in birth defects and infant mortality.

Finally, out of fear of what the electorate will do when North Carolinians realize what they have done, McCrory, Tillis and Berger have attacked the most sacred pillar of our American democracy, namely the right to vote, by cutting the number of early voting days, same-day registration and Sunday voting.

I am sorry for Wake County as the cost of doing business will increase significantly if all of those arrested choose my route, but another part of my medical oath said: “Do not allow thirst for profit, ambition for renown and admiration, to interfere with my profession, for these are the enemies of truth and of love for mankind and they can lead astray in the great task of attending to the welfare of Thy creatures.”

I did nothing wrong on May 6 and would attempt to sing again if given the chance. Although McCrory, Tillis and Berger may complain, my oath ended with: “Should conceited fools, however, censure me, then let love for my profession steel me against them, so that I remain steadfast without regard for age, for reputation, or for honor, because surrender would bring to Thy creatures sickness and death.”

Charles M. van der Horst, M.D., is a professor at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

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