AMONG the sixteen people to whom Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour, at the White House yesterday was Britain's Stephen Hawking, the world's foremost theoretical physicist who has achieved his academic eminence despite daunting disabilities. By a strange coincidence Professor Hawking was also in the news yesterday for a different reason, finding himself at the centre of the fiercely fought debate about President Obama's health care proposals which many US opponents say are based on Britain's National Health Service. An American publication, Investors Business Daily, wrote in an editorial: People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK where the NHS would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless. Dr Hawking quickly put out this statement: I wouldn't be here today if it
weren't for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived. The publication's ignorant assumption that Hawking is American speaks for itself but its attempt to rubbish the NHS is typical of the unprincipled way in which opposition to Obama's health care bill is being handled. Rupert Murdoch's Fox News TV channel has been host to British critics of the NHS, led by Conservative MEP and Telegraph columnist Daniel Hannan. President Obama's attempt to give millions of uninsured Americans a health care safety net should not be treated in this way.