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March 14, 2006
"Uh-oh," I said, "I don't think I brought the card that says what kind of pacemaker I have." This was a fine time to think of it, when I was already hooked up to the monitor.

"Oh, that's okay," the technician said. "It'll tell me which one it is. It'll even tell me when your birthday is."

"It will?"

"Oh, yeah." He put a telephone receiver against my chest. "Hey," he said, "March 28th. Coming right up, huh?"

"My goodness." I wonder what else it knows.

The monitor was sleek and streamlined. The long ribbon of the EKG poured smoothly out of it, and the two of them peered intently at it as it came. Once in a while, one of them would murmur a number and the other would murmur something back. As guest of honor, I sat quietly in my chair and watched. I was out of there in ten minutes.

Such ease. So simple. So easy to comply with the few demands these medical miracles make on me. About two million people worldwide have pacemakers. We all sit in a chair with a telephone receiver against our chests for a few minutes several times a year, and then we go on our way.

"I think I'm getting sick again," the woman tells me, almost in a whisper. She has made sure we're not observed. "I've been taking my vitamins, but I'm tired all the time."

She is in this country illegally. It has been eight years since her last chemotherapy. Since then, she has been treating her chronic leukemia with vitamins. "Shouldn't we try to get you to a doctor?" I say.

Her eyes grow large. "No," she said. "I can't do that. You know -- the green card. No."

"We could just pay cash for the visit. Just to consult."

"No. People talk to people. You never know. I'm just telling you so you'll know."

"I will take you anytime, if you change your mind," I say. "I know lots of doctors."

How many thousands and thousands of dollars does a machine like my pacemaker monitor cost? Why do I have a pacemaker that can talk on the phone and someone else can't even see a doctor because she's afraid of being turned in?

There are people in Congress want to make it illegal for me to help her. Even to talk to her about it, maybe. We should just send her and her leukemia packing, back to a country where nobody has a pacemaker or chemotherapy, or even an aspirin. We don't have an obligation to help her or anybody else.

Since when? Since when don't we have an obligation to help a neighbor? Wasn't the parable about the Good Samaritan precisely about the fact that your neighbor can be a foreigner, someone you don't know, someone not tied to you by blood or race or creed or anything else except common humanity? Didn't Jesus scoff at people who thought their only obligation was to themselves and their families, people from the same place they were from? And does having broken a law mean a person should be left to die without help, right here in the richest country in the world?

Well, what if they all came? What then?

I don't know what then. But I do know that human beings don't have the right to ignore the plight of someone who is right before our eyes.
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