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If you're uninsured and on the brink of death, that's apparently a laughing matter to some audience members at last night's tea party Republican presidential debate.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a doctor, was asked a hypothetical question by CNN host Wolf Blitzer about how society should respond if a healthy 30-year-old man who decided against buying health insurance suddenly goes into a coma and requires intensive care for six months. Paul--a fierce limited-government advocate-- said it shouldn't be the government's responsibility. "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks," Paul said and was drowned out by audience applause as he added, "this whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody …"
"Are you saying that society should just let him die?" Blitzer pressed Paul. And that's when the audience got involved.
Several loud cheers of "yeah!" followed by laughter could be heard in the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds in response to Blitzer's question.
You can watch the exchange below:
Paul disagreed with the audience on that front. "No," he responded, noting he practiced medicine before Medicaid when churches took care of medical costs--a comment that drew wide audience applause. "We never turned anybody away from the hospital."
Paul voiced support for legalizing alternative health care and argued that the reason medical costs have skyrocketed is that individuals have stopped taking personal responsibility for their health care.
Though Paul spoke to the larger issues of health care and government-backed health insurance--both pivotal in the 2012 election--the audience's reaction has overshadowed the substance of the exchange between the candidates. And the day after the event, Texas Gov. Rick Perry offered his own criticism of the audience response.
"I was a bit taken aback by that myself," Perry told NBC News and the Miami Herald of the audience reaction after appearing at a breakfast fundraiser in Tampa Tuesday morning.
"We're the party of life. We ought to be coming up with ways to save lives."
The campaigns for Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann did not immediately respond to The Ticket's request for comment.
Conservative Andrew Sullivan writing for The Daily Beast's The Dish Tuesday noted that the United States obligates society to save someone in an emergency room. "America, moreover, has a law on the books that makes it a crime not to treat and try to save a human being who walks into an emergency room. So we have already made that collective decision and if the GOP wants to revisit it, they can," Sullivan wrote.
Sullivan also decried the audience reaction, writing: "Maybe a tragedy like the death of a feckless twentysomething is inevitable if we are to restrain healthcare costs. But it is still a tragedy. It is not something a decent person cheers."