In Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish there is a phrase that fascinates me: ‘a small penal mechanism’.
‘At the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism’, he says.
The sentence came to mind recently when I heard that the Irish government was introducing a €75 charge for each round of chemotherapy. The charge is nicely judged: it will only apply to those cancer patients who are not poor enough to qualify for a medical card (free treatment) but are too poor to be able to afford private medical insurance. They have, perhaps, given up insurance in these times of austerity in order to feed their kids, and now faced with the terrifying prospect of cancer they must reassess the situation. It is a game of exquisite torture.
I’m reliably informed that chemotherapy can involve anything from a handful of rounds to dozens or even hundreds.
What does this particular form of ‘austerity’ tell us about the people imposing the charge?Minister Dr James Reilly – the man who closes down public nursing home beds while simultaneously being a shareholder in a private nursing home, the man who was listed in Stubbs Gazette recently as an undischarged debtor in relation to a €1.9 million debt on a nursing home – has cast around in his health budget of €1407,8000,000 (or €1.4 bn) and found a group of people who will try to pay up no matter what because the alternative is unthinkable.
What’s more, they’ll never be on the streets protesting. The big man (and Reilly is big) picked a fight with the sick child.