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Health Care Motivation

"You didn't really want to join the Black Order, Suman… you chose to become an exorcist to pay a treatment for you daughter's rare disease."

In countries that have little or no public health-care system, the financial cost of medical intervention or treatment can increase very rapidly. And a situation where a vital operation can't be performed because of a lack of money is just what the Rule of Drama ordered. Thus, if a story takes place in such a country (or even in countries with social security) it is not unusual for one of the characters to be motivated by a family member or friend afflicted by some rare degenerative disease. Since the doctors won't give any treatment if they are not paid cash upfront (the rarer the disease, the more expensive the treatment), this character will have no choice but to participate in some game, tournament, borrow money or simply work night and day, anything that will earn him enough money for the treatment. Failure may result in a Missing Mom, Disappeared Dad, and the likes.

Much as this trope is often a case of poor research, it can very well be Truth in Television, depending on the case.

In the US at least it is illegal to deny care, even if the patient can't pay, but these laws often only apply to stabilizing a patient who needs emergency care. Some things are classed as aesthetic (fixing a cleft palate) and therefore optional, and some problems come up with organ transplants and certain pricey cancer treatments (which may or may not be deemed "experimental" treatments). Most western countries except the USA have some form of universal healthcare system which pays for most, or all, of someone's essential healthcare costs, so this trope is less likely to be used (or justified) in those countries.

It is also often an optional treatment or a procedure that requires a specialized doctor to be brought in for any chance of success, skirting the law in that they're not refusing to give care because the patient is indigent, but not providing a specific kind of care. Experimental treatment that's only available in one country is also a popular justification; state or private insurance might cover the treatment itself, but probably not the plane tickets and other expenses. One also has to look at the time period involved — some of those "duty to care" laws are relatively recent, or have had poor enforcement in the past. And in some cases, hospital administrators might believe it's cheaper to pay fines than bankrupt themselves over a particularly expensive patient.

Sister Trope of Billy Needs An Organ. Often overlaps with Justified Criminal when said character engages into morally dubious, illegal, if not outright criminal acts.

Obviously related to Littlest Cancer Patient, Ill Girl, Incurable Cough of Death and Soap Opera Disease. See also Signed Up for the Dental for a more personal version.


"Non criminal" Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • What motivates Jonouchi/Joey in Yu-Gi-Oh! for entering the Duelist Kingdom Tournament is to pay a treatment to his soon-to-be-blind little sister Shizuka/Serenity with the huge reward. Double subverted as he loses in the last round, but is still essentially given the money by another sympathetic competitor (his best friend Yugi).
  • The titular character of Mai-HiME tires herself out working in order to transfer her sick little brother in a hospital where he can be treated properly.
  • In Hajime No Ippo, Alexander Volg Zanghief comes to Japan to earn money from professional boxing and help his ill and poor mother in Russia. Unfortunately, he fails.
  • In Toriko Takimaru's motivation for retrieving the Century Soup (the MacGuffin of one arc) is to use the money he'll get for retrieving it to buy his mentor Aimaru a cure for the numerous illnesses he's been infected with (since his ability is to absorb illness, which eventually took its toll).
  • The main motivation of the Takakura siblings in Mawaru-Penguindrum is to find a cure for Himari's illness after she comes back from the dead in the first episode. This goes double for Kanba, who has several shady contacts and a Deal with the Devil with Sanetoshi just to get the money for the cure.
    • Subverted by Masako. Her younger brother Mario is in a similar situation, but while she accepts Sanetoshi's Deal with the Devil she later rebels against him and tries to get her other brother Kanba to do the same.
  • Black Jack invokes this a few times; since Black Jack is operating illegally in the first place, he can charge any fee he likes, and some characters do indeed wind up doing things they never would have considered otherwise to pay the money.
  • Suman Dark in D.Gray-Man half-heartedly became an Exorcist to pay for his daughter's treatement. When he betrays the Order to save his life and be able to see his family again, it doesn't end well for him.
  • In Duel Masters, Benny Ha-ha tells one of these stories in an effort to convince Shobu to forfeit. It's a lie. (In the original version, it's a generic young girl; in the dub, it's young Mimi.)
  • In Ratman, ANK Security's corporate-sponsored hero comes across as a real Jerkass, intentionally putting innocent lives at greater risk by sabotaging a sprinkler system during a fire in a crowded hotel specifically so his rescue efforts will seem more impressive. At first, he claims that heroism itself died when corporate sponsorship became typical, and boasts about basking in money and prestige. It's only later when we discover that Ankaiser's mother has steep medical bills, and both money, prestige, and how impressive his fights become are all vital to keeping his Hero Rank and corporate sponsorship going.
  • O-Ren from Blade of the Immortal has been working in a brothel since she was 13 to pay for her mother's treatment. It's implied several other prostitutes are in the same boat. Giichi became a government spy to take care of his son, who dies part way through the story.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the first indication the viewer gets that Toji Suzuhara is the Fourth Child is when some people are heard discussing his deciding to the pilot on the condition that his little sister gets medical treatment with NERV, and Toji is shown walking down the halls of the hospital while this is heard.
  • In Muhyo And Roji, Enchu's desire to support his sick and poor mother fuels his efforts to become an Executor. This is possibly deconstructed when the committee deciding whether he or Muhyo would be promoted was concerned about his preoccupation with his sick mother. Their concerns are not entirely unfounded, as her death, combined with his being passed over, triggers his Face-Heel Turn as Teeki had planned when he killed her.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Kurz joined Mithril to pay the hospital bills of a girl who was injured in one of his old missions. More exactly, the one where he and his Evil Mentor were supposed to kill the assassins of Kurz's parents. Kurz had second thoughts when he realised the girl would be hurt, but the Evil Mentor still fired anyway.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Akira and Natsumi sell themselves into slavery in the Magical World to get the medicines for an ill Ako. While she gets better soon, said meds are so expensive that she has to sell herself as well. Negi finds out and signs up at a local tournament to raise money and release them.
  • The reason why Tokiko from Revolutionary Girl Utena became the local Hot Scientist was to find a cure for her little brother Mamiya. She failed, and Mamiya died.
  • Played with Leorio in Hunter × Hunter: introduced as greedy and money-obsessed, the man reveals he lost a childhood friend due to a treatable disease because the friend's parents were poor. Now, he wants to become a doctor to give free healthcare to people in his friend's situation... but it turns out that becoming a doctor costs even more money, making him go to extreme ends to get funding. (He doesn't resort to crime, but he risks his life multiple times in the infamous hunter exams.)

    Comic Books 
  • It often was Spider-Man's motivation himself - his aunt May needs either medicine or an operation. The classic "Master Planner" story was probably the best example.

    Literature 
  • In Stephen King's The Running Man (published under the pen name Richard Bachman), Richards signs up for the Games to get money to get his daughter medical care.

    Live Action TV 
  • On an episode of Law & Order: SVU, one couple end up doing porn to pay for their daughter's expensive cystic fibrosis treatment. Unfortunately, it turns out Mommy Dearest liked the job a little too much, and ends up skipping off to Vegas hoping to break a porn record or two.
    Theatre 
  • Elsie of The Yeomen of the Guard agrees to marry Fairfax prior to his execution because she needs the thousand crowns for her ill mother.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is one of the stock Melodramatic Hooks for Feng Shui, and often sees use with characters like Killers and Thieves (though any character type can get stuck with this).

    Video Games 
  • Buying medicine for his sister Castille is what motivates Walnut in Phantom Brave.
  • Dhalsim's motivation for entering the Street Fighter tournament is to use the prize money to buy medicine for his village. The skulls he wears around his neck belong to local children who died due to lack of healthcare.
    • In SFIV, his motivation is to find Seth and confront him on how a S.I.N has built a dam far upstream blocking a river that provides water (and trade, fishing, etc.) to his village.
  • Art of Fighting 2 has King enter the King of Fighters to win the money she needs to fund her kid brother Jean's operation. She doesn't win, however, Ryo and Robert pool their winnings and fund the operation for her as thanks for helping them save Yuri the year before.
    • This carries over in the King of Fighters series, which is an alternate continuity of both the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting continuities. King originally enters the tournanent to pay for Jean's operation, using her winnings in subsequent showings to pay for his continued treatment. The Women's Team '96 ending is a homage to the AoF 2 ending, as Mai and Kasumi combine their share of the winnings to surprise King by flying Jean to their location so she could see him.
  • Dead Rising 2 sees Chuck forced into Terror Is Reality in order to earn money for his daughter's Zombrex.
  • Nier needs money for Yonah's medicine... even though her disease, the Black Scrawl, is terminal. In Replicant, when he can't find enough odd jobs and quests in his village, he resorts to prostituting himself.
  • Emitai, one of your opponents in the Contest of Champions in Breath Of Fire 3, is fighting to get money for his ill daughter's operation. Subverted when you find out he's lying about the illness - he's conning his opponents into throwing the fights out of sympathy. When you beat him, he grudgingly admits being impressed you didn't fall for it, while his wife chews him out for not being convincing enough.

    Western Animation 
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Applejack wants to go to the Grand Galloping Gala to set up shop there and raise enough money to, among other things, buy a new hip for Granny Smith.

"Illegal activity" examples

    Anime and Manga 
  • One episode of Samurai Champloo has a person who steals to get money to pay for medicine for his ailing mother.
  • Also happons in Cowboy Bebop, of which Samurai Champloo is something of a Spiritual Successor. It ends just as badly for the thieves, although at least here they were actually able to get the cure for one of the thieves's blind sister, so their death wasn't totally in vain.
  • Shanalua Mullen of Gundam AGE has a young sister with an unspecified illness that requires hospitalization and very expensive care, so she takes a very lucrative offer to spy on her own comrades for Vagan.
  • In Hana no Ko Lunlun, this was the motivation behind the lockpick Dario's Dark and Troubled Past in the Italy arc. He needed money for his son's medicine and the local bank robbers offered him a part of the money in exchange for him using his lockpicking skills for their benefit. It backfired horribly: they got caught, Dario barely escaped but became a fugitive, and for worse his kid died.
  • In Weiß Kreuz, it's revealed early on that the reason Aya became an assassin, and takes any job he's given (even though they are given the option to refuse jobs they don't like), is because his little sister is in a coma, and he took up the work to pay for her medical bills.
  • In Mawaru-Penguindrum, Kanba becomes increasingly involved with the Takakura family's illegal terrorist group in order to use their connections to gather money to pay for Himari's treatment. By the end, he's even personally ordering hits on people who Know Too Much and outright seems to be the group's leader. However, this is very much played as an awful, corrupting thing on him.

    Comic Books 
  • This was the motivation given by the Vulture once for robbing a bank, to pay for his granddaughter's operation. Spider-Man brings him in anyway but gives the money to the girl's mother. (The bank manager was apparently an asshole, so it all works out fine.)
  • In Ultimate X-Men, the conjoined twin mutant brothers calling themselves Syndicate rob a bank that Xavier happened to be visiting and hold everyone there hostage because they are trying to pay for their little sister's operation. Xavier uses his powers to fake their deaths at the hands of the police and recruits them as his personal spies in exchange for paying for their sister's treatment.
  • Booster Gold was originally a college football star from a poor family; in most versions of the story, his mother became seriously ill and Booster started betting on and throwing his games in order to get the money for her treatment.
  • The Mirror Master in one issue of the Justice League Unlimited spinoff comic is trying to raise the money for an operation for his wheelchair-bound son. At one point, he holds illusionary people hostage and demands a ransom of exactly the amount he needs.
  • In NYX, Felon often uses his powers for shady jobs in order to raise money to get his severely autistic brother, Lil' Bro, out of District X and into a school where he can get the care he needs. He ultimately takes on New York pimp Zebra Daddy's job to track down a runaway prostitute.

    Film 
  • The whole premise of John Q., a (rather Anvilicious for many) critic of the American health-care system. After failing to earn enough money to operate his son, he Takes A Third Option and takes the hospital hostage, demanding a free treatment and brewing a Thanatos Gambit to get himself killed and donate his own heart to his kid. He's still subdued, but the boy is saved anyway.
  • Dog Day Afternoon. One of the reasons that Sonny robbed the bank was to get money to pay for a friend's sex change operation.
  • Catch That Kid. A group of children rob a high-security bank to pay for surgery for the father of one of the kids.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has the main character kidnap a child for ransom in order to pay for a kidney transplant for his sister. It goes to hell from there.
  • In Spider-Man 3, Flint Marko aka Sandman steals to pay for medical treatment for his critically ill daughter, Penny.
  • The French film Yamakasi has this for a premise. A small boy gets hurt trying to imitate the famous Parkour group and needs very expensive surgery which his family is too poor to afford. So the Yamakasi decide to apologize to the family by robbing some very rich people and paying for the surgery, doing awesome stunts in the process. A most blatant example of They Just Didn't Care since in the French healthcare system you need not go to such extreme lengths to get a treatment.
  • The title character of The Killer takes on a final assassination job in order to pay for the corneal surgery of a woman who he accidentally blinded in the movie's first shootout. The plot ensues when his handler's boss, Wong Hoi, decides to take out a Contract on the Hitman rather than pay him.
  • Andrew from the film Chronicle commits robbery to pay for his cancer stricken mother's medication.
  • Johnny, of Johnny Dangerously, became the famous gangster that he is to pay for his mother's increasingly high medical bills (the more money Johnny acquires, the higher the price the doctor charges...)

    Live-Action TV 
  • There's a whole season arc of Friday Night Lights around this—Mindy's pregnancy isn't going well, but lacking health insurance, Billy can't afford to get her hospitalized and ensure she and the baby are stable. So what does he do? He starts stripping cars for money.
  • Psych subverts this: One episode was centered around a sufferer of Van Wilder's Disease, a disease that required regular blood transfusions. Naturally, the murderer had no health insurance and a rare blood type, so he killed people for their blood and robbed blood banks for his own healthcare.
  • Flashpoint episode "Thicker Than Blood". A man's son has leukemia. He robs a credit union in order to get enough money to pay for his son's bone marrow transplant.
    • Also in the episode "First in Line", a man is informed by his hospital that that a donor heart is available for his dying daughter, only to discover the heart will be given to someone else because of a mix-up. He takes a hospital wing hostage, demanding that his daughter receive the transplant.
  • Subverted by Breaking Bad. Walter ostensibly gets into the meth trade in order to help pay for first his and later, Hank's medical care and provide for his family after he's gone. However, very early in the series some wealthy friends offer him a well-paying job with excellent health insurance and then to pay his bills outright, both of which he refuses out of pride. Although he continues to use this as an excuse, both to himself and others, it quickly becomes clear to the audience that his real reasons are less noble.
  • Arrow: in the episode "Time of Death", wanting to pay for a medical treatment for his dying sister is what motivates William Tockman (the Clock King) into committing a series of bank robberies.

    Video Games 
  • This is Rowd's motivation in Suikoden II to join the ranks of The Caligula Luca Blight's Quirky Miniboss Squad.
  • In Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword, Dorcas joins up with a group of bandits to earn money for medicine for his Ill Girl wife. Fortunately, Lyn is there to straighten him out.
    • In Radiant Dawn, Heather steals medicine for her mom.
    • In Fire Emblem Awakening, Holland joins some bandits to get enough money to take care of his heavily pregnant wife. You must keep the guy alive to recruit a certain girl whom he struck a friendship of sorts with: Cordelia's Kid from the Future, Severa.
      • Awakening also lampshades the trope for laughs in one of the Outrealm missions: einjerhar Caeda tries to recruit one of your party by asking if they're trying to support an ill mother and offering gold for medicine.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Soryu's sequel route in Kissed By The Baddest Bidder, this turns out to be the reason that Kyoichiro turned against the Ice Dragons: his mother is critically ill and he needs a large amount of money to pay the only doctor who might be able to cure her. When he finds out, Soryu blames himself for not realizing that one of his men was in that kind of need, since if he had known he would simply have paid for the doctor himself. Which is precisely what he and Eisuke proceed to do.

    Web Comics 
  • This is how a rape is "commissioned" in Concession. Ironically, the ill girl dies that very night.
  • In one storyarc of Jack, a man becomes the assistant of a doctor who is working on inventing a new treatment that could potentially cure the man's wife's terminal illness. Then he discovers the doctor molesting the children he is using for his "clinical trials". The man agrees to keep quiet because he wants to save his wife. In a bit of karmic backlash, his wife is horrified when the man admits the truth and the stress kills her. The man has to endure Purgatory and at least one more life filled with hardship and pain before he can be reunited with her.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: When Mr. Burns and several other employers decided to cancel their health plans, some people (Flanders included, to see how serious it was) decided to break the law to obtain medicine. It's different from most (if not all) other criminal examples is that the crime wasn't to get money to buy remedies but to bring the remedies. They smuggled them from Canada.
  • Pictured: The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes: Long before Scott Lang became the second Ant-Man, he helped crime boss Crossfire rob banks to pay for the medical treatment of Scott's daughter, Ill Girl Cassie.


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