What would Lincoln Do?

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By R Carter

My eight grade civic instructor Mr. Graves, was asked this question and I have never forgotten his answer. 

What is government supposed to do? “He replied, government’s job is to ensure balance and equality between groups and individuals. So that everyone has a fair and equal chance in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. They therefore pass laws which accomplish these goals.”

His answer forever shaped my view of civil rights, segregation, women’s rights, and any number of other business and social issues which go to our core freedoms. And all my life I have wondered how it’s possible that those elected to office can lose sight of something so simple.

While searching for historical parallels between the opiate crisis and other events in this country, I came across Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and felt his words would have appealed to Americans if he were here speaking on this issue. To that end I borrowed from those words, imagining what Lincoln might have said in another speech.

Since 2010 this nation has pursued a noble goal of trying to eliminate opiate abuse. We hear numbers like two million Americans, 0.62% of the population, are addicted to prescription opiates. And with each regulation and rule passed to lower those numbers, some ignore the consequences these regulations have on another minority who far out number those reportedly addicted.

That of the chronic pain community, numbering 50 million or 20.4% of the population, who ask for little more than a fighting chance to hold down a job and raise their families. Our service men and women have given the best years of their life in service to this country and the disregard shown towards them has grown to such proportions, that weekly we read reports of those who have taken their lives. American’s, kicked to the curb, neglected and forgotten until what is irrational becomes rational and they take their lives or die from untreated complications.

The disgrace of such actions defies words and is nothing short of inexcusable. And while some officials quietly avoid answering questions from the chronic pain community, others continue their assault against doctors by subverting laws designed to prosecute illegal drug traffickers and twisting them to go after compassionate and dedicated professionals.

Two hundred years ago our fathers established in this land, a nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. They envisioned a government of the people and for the people where equality in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, was balanced and maintained by laws which favored none yet benefited all. Since then and from time to time, these principles and values have been challenged as those privileged with influence and position, have sought to deny their brethren those same doctrines which they claim to uphold and embrace.

Now we are engaged in a great ideological war on what place and methods the treatment of pain has in our society. A war which tests not only our nation, but all nations so dedicated to those values we hold so dear. And many, weary of a long endured battle, ask how longer will it last, what measures must be taken to end a scourge so closely aligned with our most basic rights.

The battle field has been uncertain, its boundaries ill-defined, as victims on both sides are often those we would least expect. Mother, father, sister and brother have fallen; and with each loss our grief and pain have turned to frustration, anger, resentment and hatred. And there are other innocents, those who have fought and fallen to right these wrongs, further adding to our sense of loss and disillusionment.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate nor consecrate ourselves to struggle against these forces, by offering up the deaths of other innocents for a resolution which satisfies our own suffering. Far above our poor power to do so, we must embrace those principles which have made our nation great, by acknowledging and taking stock in the wisdom this nation’s founders have laid out for us.

In the years to come few will take note, nor remember, what was said as we struggled to find purpose from what we’ve suffered. But many will recall our appointments and actions, they will judge us for the unfinished work we’ve started and sought so nobly to advance. It is rather to us to be here dedicated to a greater task which remains before us, to further the tenants of our forefathers by honoring those lost, with an increased devotion to put forth resolutions which establish equality in our quest for balance in life, liberty and good health.

This nation should commit itself, under the grace of God, to give a new and yet unrecognized birth of freedom. One where a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not serve the privilege of any minority, but will exercise the principles of equality the writers laid out for us. And in doing so, pursue not only impartiality in the rule of law, but in life, liberty and good health. 


The chronic pain community calls on Congress to open to public debate the treatment of pain in this country and the role of government in those efforts. To include members from the chronic pain community; allowing us to tell our stories on how current policies have impacted more than 10% of the population. To allow us a voice, so that equality and balance may be preserved and the spirit of our democracy acknowledged.


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