Jimmy (and Billy) Kimmel and the Power of One

Television audiences throughout North America and beyond have been riveted by the recent opening to talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel’s program. Having missed an entire week without the network providing an explanation, Kimmel returned to the air to say that he had been at the bedside of his newborn son, Billy, who had almost died of heart disease right out of the womb.

Kimmel assured his audience that the story has a happy ending, and baby Billy has indeed survived his brush with death thanks to fine work by two Los Angeles hospitals. So far, so good.

Then Kimmel made his larger point: according to the alternative health insurance plan supported by the new Congress and Trump administration, his needy son might not qualify for health insurance later in life because of a “pre-existing condition”—that is, the health problem he needed fixing on the first day of his life.

There is much to say about how health care should be funded in the United States, as well as up here in Canada—neither system currently providing excellent care to every one of its citizens. But today, let’s focus, as Jimmy Kimmel did, not on “systems” or “plans” or “proposals,” but on a single newborn, struggling for life.

Baby Billy was shown in two photographs on the program. In one, he is hooked up to machines on what appears to be every available square inch of his tiny body. In the other, he is grinning at the camera. Both pictures, in their respective ways, are heart-breaking.

And that’s the point.

Talking about health-care insurance options can be done bloodlessly, blithely, in the abstract. Whose heart breaks over charts and graphs and tables?

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3 Responses to “Jimmy (and Billy) Kimmel and the Power of One”

  1. Jim Reilly

    1 Timothy 6:10New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    10 For the love of money is a root of all [a]sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

  2. Steve Boyer

    A great post, John . . . provided it is still reason that guides our decision-making, not just emotion.

    I hate to put it this way, because my worry is precisely that, by highlighting the “heart-breaking photo”, we are inviting an emotionalism that is separate from reason, that is a-rational — whereas what we need is a union of reason and emotion that allows heart and head to interpenetrate in a good, old-fashioned biblical way.

    A heartless, bloodless appeal to graphs and statistics fails not because it is rational, but because it is ONLY rational — which means that it is insufficiently human. But a course correction that would have us guided solely by the feelings evoked by heart-wrenching stories is surely inhuman, too, isn’t it? Inhuman in the opposite way?

    In this sense, “heartless conservatism” and “bleeding heart liberalism” are equal and opposite errors. What we need is what C. S. Lewis called “men with chests”, men (and women) in whom reason and emotion are intrinsically and humanely tied together. Then we will no longer blithely ignore real human suffering, but neither will we be crassly manipulated by a well-tailored photograph.

  3. Jim Reilly

    Access to health care should be an undeniable human right not dependent on ones wallet. It is neither a conservative or liberal choice. We value human life or we don’t. The qualitative level of the service delivery would be dependent of the wealth of the state not the individual.


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