All Commentary
Friday, May 1, 1992

The Best for Priscilla

Mr. Peterson is headmaster of The Pilgrim Academy in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.

When our sixth child was born a few months ago, we were distressed to hear that she might have a problem with her hips. Visions of a baby in braces raced through our minds. Trying to be the strong husband, I said to my wife, “Don’t worry, we’ll get the best for Priscilla.”

Our pediatrician advised us to have ultrasound testing to see if Priscilla’s legs were joining properly with the hip sockets. He sent us to a hospital especially for children—the Alfred I. duPont Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in for a lesson in economics that I’ll never forget.

The hospital is on the former estate of American inventor, businessman, and philanthropist Alfred duPont, whose money founded the Institute. A remarkable man from a remarkable family, he inherited a substantial fortune and built it into an even larger sum. Like most duPonts, he worked his way up from the bottom, learning the family business in the powder mills along the Brandywine River. In his later years, he decided to move south and spent his time rebuilding Florida’s economy after the boom and bust real estate deals of the 1920s. His holdings eventually included forests, banks, railroads, and real estate. His rule: invest only for long-term growth. In fact, duPont didn’t expect to reap rewards from his investments during his lifetime.

When he died in 1935, he left an estate of some $70 million. Nearly half—$30 million—was consumed in state and federal inheritance taxes. After leaving a few million to his wife and children, the remainder endowed the Nemours Foundation, which was charged with opening a hospital devoted to children. For nearly 60 years, the foundation has been benefiting children, operating with funds earned from profitable investments in America’s free enterprise system. The hospital, which has never turned a child away, represents the best in free enterprise and philanthropy.

DuPont’s grounds and mansion are beautiful, but it was the hospital that astonished me. It is a cross between Disney World and a high-tech research center. The receptionist told us that it was especially designed to be non-threatening to children. The interior of each wing is decorated in a different color—bright red, green, yellow, or blue.

We carried little Priscilla past playroom after playroom and finally reached the ultrasound room. With its soft lighting and colorful aquarium, the room was far from institutional. On the wall were posters of Pinocchio, Snow White, Bambi—cartoon creations from the studio of American artist-entrepreneur Walt Disney. Suspended from the ceiling were more cartoon characters, originally marketed to make a profit for their creators, but who have since delighted—and sometimes comforted—a generation of Americans. Here, also, were doctors and nurses who really cared. Little Priscilla was too young to be impressed by all this, but it sure eased my mind!

The ultrasound imaging took only a few minutes. As we waited for the results and the specialist’s opinion, I picked up some literature and began reading more about this wonderful hospital.

At duPont a pre-operative visit helps young surgical patients feel at home and overcome their fears about the procedures they will undergo. They meet “Mr. Teddy Bear,” another patient (whose intravenous tube is connected to a bottle of “Hospital 7-Up”), receive a “real” surgical mask, and may take a ride in the red wagon that will transport them to the operating room. As a result, patients are happier, calmer, and easier to help—and so are the parents, who take these things harder than the children do.

On surgery day, the family remains together in a cheerfully decorated room. The patient may play, read, or watch TV until—with a favorite toy or blanket in hand—he is taken to surgery. After surgery, the child is immediately reunited with his parents. More important, the adults are often relieved to find that every anesthesiologist is also certified in pediatrics.

Searching for Tomorrow’s Cures

The Nemours Foundation is funding a number of research projects that will benefit the next generation of children. The institute already is a leader in Lyme disease detection and treatment. Institute scientists also are searching for the causes of muscular dystrophy. So far, researchers have discovered that the chemical compound hemin, when injected into laboratory animals, dramatically increases muscle strength and significantly reduces the invasion of connective tissue cells seen in the disease. Human tests will follow.

The institute also is adapting computer technology to assist disabled children. Portable robotic arms are being developed that can be placed at a work station or on the side of a wheelchair. These arms then will be programmed to perform specific functions.

Computer devices also are being developed to aid children with speech and hearing impairments. Projects include a telephone system for the deaf that uses video sign language and a speech synthesizer that reflects the age and personality of the user.

The institute’s ultimate goal is to “prolong and improve the lives of children everywhere.” But the institute can’t do that without the benefits of a free society. A free society generates the wealth needed to fund continued treatment and research, and provides the climate needed for innovation, discovery, and experimentation.

Today, Alfred duPont’s Nemours Foundation continues to invest in profit-seeking enterprises, with the proceeds supporting the hospital’s programs. Interest, profits, capital accumulation—things so disparaged by Marx and his followers—are what make the duPont Institute possible. Destroy the profit motive and you throw the baby out with the bath water. Destroy the businesses in which the Nemours Foundation invests and you destroy the institute. The more business is regulated, the fewer dividends are available to maintain and expand the hospital.

After about a half hour, two doctors came in and gave us their analysis of the ultrasound: Priscilla was okay. There would be no need for a cast, a brace, or any treatment whatsoever. Her hip sockets were fine.

As we were leaving, I asked a hospital administrator if there were any hospitals like this outside the Western world.

“None,” she said.

“Have you ever had visitors from Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union?” I asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact we had some visitors from Russia just a few weeks ago. When they saw what we had here, they wept.”

These visitors knew that they could never have such a hospital until their country is free. No amount of central planning, Western subsidies, socialized medicine, or national health insurance could create a duPont Institute. Only the continuing vitality of a free society, where people can innovate, create, invest, and serve others as they choose, makes such an institution possible.

There are many arguments for the free society, but none so compelling as the health and welfare of our children. The best for our little Priscilla—the best for children everywhere—is the fruit of freedom.

  • Mr. Peterson is headmaster of The Pilgrim Academy in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including National Review and Human Events.