UNC doctor convicted in Moral Monday trial for doing the right thing

December 12, 2013 

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    Find a Point of View that Dr. Charles van der Horst wrote in September about why he refused to take a plea deal here.

Dr. Charles van der Horst, a UNC physician and internationally known AIDS researcher, did what he thought was his duty as a doctor and an American. He participated in a Moral Monday protest last summer to object to the General Assembly’s decision not to expand Medicaid. That decision kept between 318,000 and 500,000 low-income North Carolinians from gaining coverage under the federal-state health insurance program for the poor.

The doctor, like more than 900 other protesters, was arrested on trespass charges for taking his concerns into the place where they were being ignored, the state Legislative Building.

On Wednesday he was convicted. But before the verdict, there was a moment that rendered a larger judgment. On the witness stand, van der Horst described his exasperation when he was unable to present his concerns to Republican leaders who decided to reject the Medicaid expansion. Then he expressed his worries about how forgoing the federal funding would affect his hospital’s ability to serve the poor. And he described the anguish of two low-income patients who couldn’t afford proper medical care.

“There was this frustration that I couldn’t make my voice heard, and I thought it was going to lead to the death of my patients,” van der Horst told the judge.

In the course of that testimony, the doctor’s voice halted and tears welled in his eyes.

In those tears was the real crime: That legislative leaders and the governor, moved by partisan spite against President Obama, chose to leave hundreds of thousands of low-income North Carolinians to fend for themselves when help was readily at hand.

The doctor was convicted, but it wasn’t he who did something wrong.

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