David Zheng, Senior Photographer

Americans cannot truly be free without a robust health care system motivated by people and not profit, according to a Monday panel discussion of Yale scholars.

Earlier this week, Jackson Institute of Global Affairs students, undergraduates and other community members attended an online discussion on a new book titled “Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary,” written by history professor Timothy Snyder. Snyder, who teaches in the Department of History and at the Jackson Institute, was inspired by his experience being gravely ill from December to February and decided to write about his thoughts on the state of American health care from the perspective of a bed-ridden patient. He was joined by poet Reginald Dwayne Betts LAW ’16, who led the discussion and provided a new perspective on the inequity that stems from disparities in health care between different racial and ethnic groups. James Levinsohn, director of the Jackson Institute, hosted the event.

“The system has to be fixed … Health care has to be a human right, and I don’t mean that as an abstraction. I think it has to be the language we’re speaking in,” Snyder said. “Americans have to treat their bodies as being within the sphere of rights and not in the sphere of profit.”

Doctors are forced to think in terms of profits, according to Snyder, and that forces them to make decisions that are not always to the benefit of the patient.

He added that because doctors are working in conditions that limit the amount of time they have to think for themselves, “chained to machines which make them stupider and busier and more distracted than they have to be,” patients end up suffering — and the health care system as a whole ends up flawed.

“Some of my doctors made terrible decisions, but all of my doctors were working in conditions which they shouldn’t have to work in,” said Snyder. “It shouldn’t all be about profit. They should have more time to think for themselves. In this story of American health care, nobody is perfect. It’s just a question of where do we start from, and I think we ought to start by making the doctors freer than they are.”

Snyder’s book not only discusses his experience as a patient but also the larger story of America’s health care policies. In a system where health care is not seen as a human right, citizens are unable to enjoy other freedoms, according to Snyder.

Betts praised Snyder’s ability to weave the academic perspective of a scholar with the story of ethnic differences in health care, such as the high mortality rates of Black children. Betts, who was incarcerated at age 16 for eight years but later graduated from Yale Law School, frequently speaks on topics of incarceration and its effects.

“The way in which you juxtapose your experience with both your experience as a scholar but also the way you think about the infant mortality rate of Black children in this country … [does] a really compelling job of not just telling your story,” said Betts to Snyder. “It’s actually a sort of wonderful long essay.”

Snyder wrote the book during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He first became ill in December of 2019  — which meant that his illness coincided with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Snyder, he would continuously visit the hospital while medical professionals did not use masks.

“I was treated by medical professionals without masks, you know, in March of 2020, in a time when that just shouldn’t have been happening,” Snyder said.

According to Levinsohn, the host of the Monday discussion, these sorts of events are common at the Jackson Institute, allowing for an interesting array of speakers to explore a variety of topics.

He added that during the discussion, Snyder was in Vienna, meaning an in-person event would have been impossible were it not for the online format.

“The new format has allowed us to have convenience that might have otherwise been logistically either difficult or impossible,” Levinsohn told the News in an interview.

On Monday, Oct. 12, the Jackson Institute will be hosting another discussion with former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former University President Rick Levin, who will moderate the conversation. This event is open to the public.

Arya Nalluri | arya.nalluri@yale.edu