The military counts its dead and wounded even though politicians would prefer to hide the truth.
Public health officials count the deceased and injured from drunk driving. The alcohol industry might prefer to hide the mayhem by slashing public health funding, but wiser, compassionate minds prevail.
Counting the dead is a way that society says a life matters. It honors the deceased, a mother, father, sister or brother, son or daughter.
Failing to count them is to dishonor them.
In hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities, no one counts those who die or are injured because of preventable mistakes and infections.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths from preventable health care harm. Courageous doctors and others took a stand. It was perhaps the first time in the history of medicine that the public was told the truth.
The 98,000 figure is more than the number of soldiers killed in the Korean and Vietnam war theaters combined, as reported in the Wall of Silence.
Still, the death toll has not compelled the government to routinely count mortality from iatrogenesis.
Parents fill the void. One of them is John James, Ph.D., a NASA toxicologist. His 19-year-old son, John Alexander James, died because of uninformed and careless medical care at a Texas hospital, according to a website Dr. James created in his son's memory.
Dr. James conducted a study published this month in the Journal of Patient Safety in which he meticulously examines more recent studies. He estimates the number of premature deaths from preventable harm to be more than 400,000 Americans per year.
The jaw-dropping estimate means that a new Arlington National Cemetery is needed every nine months to bury the dead.
Why should the people of the United States rely on an extraordinary, dedicated private citizen to calculate estimates of a leading cause of morality in our country?
Powerful vested interests don't want we, the people, to know.
President John F. Kennedy warned the country about the dangers of secrecy in a 1961 speech, saying, "Secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to (it) ... We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it."
Secrecy is unraveling the fabric of the health care system. The dishonor of the deceased is taking its toll. There is only one way out. Count the dead and the injured. Honor them as we would all wish to be honored.