How prepared are you for an overseas emergency?

The game Scruples; that’s the first thing I thought of when I read “Plea for help to get sick Aussie home” in the Canberra Times this morning.

Thomas Barry Moore is in a vegetative state in a Chinese hospital

Thomas Barry Moore is in a vegetative state in a Chinese hospital

The Department of Foreign Affairs has refused to fund the repatriation of a former air force serviceman who has been in a coma in a Chinese hospital for 116 days.

Relatives of Thomas Barry Moore have been warned that the 70-year-old Australian would be ”removed” from the hospital and Chinese police would be contacted if they were unable to meet medical payments.

Mr Moore suffered a stroke on December 31 and has remained in a vegetative state in the Zheng Zhou Traditional Chinese Medical Hospital ever since.

Mr Barry’s daughter Tracy Woolley, who lives in Canberra, contacted DFAT on January 4 and asked for assistance because she couldn’t afford to visit her father or fund the estimated $160,000 cost of his return to Australia.

What a terrible thing to have to be going through. I’m fortunate to have two quite healthy parents, but can certainly empathize the sense of helplessness a child must feel when their parent is gravely sick or dying. To couple that with thousands of kilometres separation and finances preventing you from being at their side, or providing them with the love and care they deserve — I really can’t begin to understand what Mr. Moore’s daughter is going through.

But where I get hung up in the story, and where possibly my compunction for compassion is superseded by my libertarian practicality, is when I ask if it should be a government’s responsibility (and thus tax payer responsibility) to pay more than $100K to fix a problem they didn’t create, and thus potentially open a very wide door of precedent.

I hope that doesn’t come across as terribly callous and insensitive, as I really don’t mean it as such. I completely understand Mr. Moore’s daughter is in an impossible situation and just looking for help — any help.

The blame for the mess, unfortunately, rests firmly on the shoulders of the one person in absolutely no position to do anything about it — Mr. Moore. At 70-years-old, living in a foreign country, you would expect that his undeniably wanning mortality may have occurred to him and he could have better prepared so as not to put his family in such an awkward spot.

But then, it could really happen to any of us laowai, at any time. And how many of us are really prepared? Maybe the engineers and business expats are all set and good to stroke; but half-pats, students, travellers and ESL teachers? I’ve yet to see an ESL job that offered anything more than incidental medical coverage, and most of the time even that is a complete sham. How many of us have comprehensive emergency plans, financial nest eggs and insurance to cover every, if any, contingency?

I’m willing to bet not many of us have given this much thought, and that really is the only reason I’m posting this. I don’t know how things will turn out for Tracy and her father, but I truly hope he finds his way home and isn’t (quite literally) pushed to the curb when his medical bills go past due. For the rest of us, I hope Mr. Moore can serve as a kick in the pants for all of us to spend a bit of time considering what would happen in a worst-case scenario — not just what would happen to ourselves, but what position our lack of preparedness could potential put our loved ones in.

Advice, opinions and resources are encouraged in the comments.