'Bodies' delivered to U.S. senators on Human Rights Day

By Margaret Flowers

WASHINGTON – On International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, health professionals and patients delivered cardboard cutout “bodies” to selected U.S. senators here to make visible the number of people who die in the senators’ home states because the nation does not have Medicare for all.

As part of a national day of action centered on the theme of health care as a human right, dozens of health professionals and patients gathered at the Hart Senate Building on Thursday morning. The day was sunny but very windy, which made it challenging to hold the large banners which read: “How many must die for insurance company profits?” and “Medicare for all saves lives.” Activists also held signs declaring, “Health care is a human right” and “Single payer now.” They chanted and sang as passing motorists honked their horns in support.

Following the spirited rally, the activists entered the Senate building to visit 26 senators and present them each with a letter requesting their support for Senate Amendment 2837, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The amendment, co-sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Roland Burris, D-Ill., would substitute single-payer financing for the current Senate health legislation and would create a federal health system, administered at the state level, which would be universal, comprehensive and financially sustainable, its supporters say.

The letters to the senators were attached to the backs of large cutouts of bodies, much like the chalk outlines seen at murder scenes. The number of adults who die each year from lack of health insurance in the given senator’s state was printed on the front of the body, with the words that there would be a corresponding number of fewer deaths if the U.S. had a Medicare-for-all health system.

Some of the Senate staffers reacted strongly to the appearance of the bodies, which was the intention of the action’s organizers. The activists said it is imperative that members of Congress and their staff understand the magnitude of suffering and death that would be prevented if they took steps to pass Medicare for all.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Deputy Chief of Staff, David McCallum, met with the delegation that brought a body to his office. The group implored McCallum to at the very least give the majority of Americans who support Medicare for all the right to have S.A. 2837 debated on the floor of the Senate.

Serendipitously, the Mobilization for Health Care for All (, the organization that coordinated pro-single-payer actions in 19 cities Thursday, was contacted by the daughter of the late Sen. Philip Hart, for whom the building is named, on the day before the rally. She stated that International Human Rights Day was also her father’s birthday and that he would have supported single payer, as she does.

Organizers say the movement for single payer continues to grow and become more visible daily. They say it is unacceptable that at least 120 people die each day in the United States from lack of insurance, and that the magnitude of suffering and death from lack of access to health care does not occur in any other industrialized nation.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician, is congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program ( and participated in Thursday’s rally in Washington.