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Let’s Kill Grandma July 31, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Democrats, Economy, Health Care, National Politics, Republicans.
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grandmaThe Republicans are firing a new salvo in their fight against meaningful health care reform.  Apparently, House Democrats have hidden a provision in their reform bill that will force the elderly to choose to elect how they want to die.  Or maybe it will send brown-shirted government workers to their houses to let them know that their health care costs too much and they need to take the big shot.  Or maybe it it will pull them out of their homes and force them into a concentration camp for old people where they’ll be euthanized once they are no longer productive.  However it happens, if you’re old, you’re a goner.

What is it that has these folks so riled up, so much so that Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said Wednesday on the House floor, “The Republican plan would “make sure we…will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.”?   .  It is Section 1233 of the bill called “Advance Care Planning Consultation”.  It  would enable anyone in any public plan (including Medicare) to voluntarily request and receive end-of-life counseling and have the government pay for it.  The provision simply provides guidance to seniors (and younger people enrolled in the public plan) on complicated issues, such as living wills, durable power of attorneys and health care proxies, which are services Americans have been requesting for quite some time. 

When I first started hearing about this, I thought it was another right-wing, lunatic-fringe, six-days wonder conspiracy theory.  After all, I first heard it on TV by Rep. Foxx, one of those tea-bagging, “Obama is a secret Muslim and was not born in America” nut-bags (Foxx is, of course, the same congressional representative who said that the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming was not a hate crime, even though the confessed murderers stated that they singled him out because he was gay). 

When the President was asked about this, however, by an elderly woman in a town hall meeting Wednesday, I knew the thing had legs.

On Wednesday evening’s Hardball with Chris Matthews,  Matthews was so worked up about this that he could barely let his guests, Lois Romano of the Washington Post and Jonathan Martin of Politico, speak.  Matthews (who I normally respect) really went off the rails here, equated the provision with taxpayer-funded abortions, and called the provision “social policy”. 

“It’s the kind of social policy dynamite that sounds like Denmark or Scandanavia,” Matthews said, “and it’s that kind of mind set that drives a lot of moderates and conservatives crazy.” 

Matthews, who at times lets his Irish-Catholic sensibilities through the veil of objectivity, must have gotten spanked a little by MSNBC for Wednesday’s segment because yesterday he had the provision’s sponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon on to explain it.  Of course, before Blumenauer appeared, Matthews put Conservative radio host Lars Larsen on – who stated that the government would insist that doctors initiate the discussions with elderly people because they “had a dog in this fight” – there would be billions of dollars at stake. 

When Blumenauer appeared, he was visibly passionate and upset over the obfuscation of the law by Larsen.  “Lars is either not telling the truth,” the congressman explained, “or he doesn’t know how to read the bill.”

Blumenauer went on to explain that his provision, co-sponsored by a Republican, would just allow doctors to have these consultations with patients – ones that they are already having – and be compensated for them.  Rep. Blumenauer said that doctors and the AARP support such a provision as it allows the decisions to be made before a person is too extremely ill to sensibly make them.  Matthews pressed the congressman to tell him who would initiate the conversation.  Blumenauer responded that it could come from either party; it is the same thing as any conversation any practitioner and patient would have about care for any illness. 

One of the reasons that medicine costs so much in this country is, truly, that we use way too much of it – especially when it is clear that death is the inevitable result.  Of course nobody wants to die, but there has to come a point where you know that no more medicine can help you.  It really is the responsibility of any ethical medical practitioner to advise a patient when more medicine will extend, but not enhance, his or her life.  Certainly, if a patient wants to keep fighting death he or she should be able to access all the medical community has to offer, and his doctor should be aware of his intentions.  But the doctor should also know when or if the patient says “enough is enough”.  Too many people do not have these conversations with their doctors and their care and quality of life suffers for it.

My Dad was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in January, 2005.  He had surgery, then went through chemotherapy and radiation – but the doctors made it clear to all of us that those measures would merely push death out a few months.  When his scans showed that the tumor wasn’t going anywhere, my Mom, Dad, and the doctors decided how and where he would die.  At the end, Dad was at home, with his family around him, and with excellent palliative care from hospice.  Dad lasted 5 months to the day from his diagnosis – but died at home in his own bed – just as he wanted.

It is my hope that if I am ever diagnosed with some incurable disease, the doctor will be able to ask me what I want.  I hope that the doctor will honestly tell me that I am at the end of the road.  I do want to choose how I will die – free of pain, without extraordinary measures, calmly, and with dignity. 

Don’t we all want that – even the crazy right-wingers?



1. Posts about Politico as of July 31, 2009 » The Daily Parr - July 31, 2009

[…] than economists expected, while still in… German Bonds Advance on Month-End Rebalancing, U.S. Let’s Kill Grandma – kateskitchentable.wordpress.com 07/31/2009 The Republicans are firing a new salvo in their fight […]

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