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Death Panel Demagoguery

One year ago last week, Sarah Palin alerted the world on Facebook to the dangers of the health care bill then under consideration by Congress.

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Four months later, this would earn PolitiFact‘s designation as Lie of the Year. But the damage was done. Fellow demagogues jumped on the bandwagon, including Newt Gingrich, who declared on This Week with George Stephanopoulosthat, “You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

There were many debunking efforts. At the ABC news website, for example, Kate Snow explained three days after Palin’s charges that, “At issue is a 10-page section of a 1,000-page House health care reform bill on ‘advanced care planning consultations.’ These consultations would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient once every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life. … The provision would create no such panel. It calls only for a ‘consultation between the individual and a practitioner.’ … In fact, the intent of the measure is not for doctors to tell patients what to do, but to give doctors more incentives to talk to patients about all of their options.”

Alas, the damage was done, and the bill that finally passed had no such provision.

Why am I reviewing this? Because on the first anniversary of this madness, our family is dealing with the difficulties that arise when someone does not give instructions on end-of-life choices. The someone is Gail’s brother, now comatose and on life support at a Seattle hospital, as we learned when we were awakened at 6:00 AM yesterday by a doctor’s phone call. He may regain consciousness. He may even be able to come off the various devices that are now assisting him. But if he doesn’t, and this would appear to be the more likely scenario, then decisions will have to be made, and he has provided no guidance.

Yesterday, Gail, her sister, and I sat with three doctors to review the medical, legal, and ethical issues and the possible timeline for decision making. This was a difficult conversation for all the obvious reasons, but also because we were operating in a vacuum with regard to their brother’s wishes. The doctors helpfully clarified that their initial concern was not what we wished for him, but what he would have wished. And so we speculated, but really, how could we know?

I can’t say that if he had the appropriate conversations with doctors, lawyers, or family earlier, he would have left instructions. But I would happily encourage and promote opportunities for such conversations to be held routinely. He has been in and out of hospitals for several years. If only he had left instructions during one of his stays.

As we continue to work our way through these issues, and as so many others do every day, I say to Sarah and the rest of the death panel demagogues, “Shame on you.” You should know better, and you do. As for you, Betsy McCaughey, the instigator of all this nonsense, shame especially on you.

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Categories: Health, Life, Politics
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