In the Arena

Death Panels

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Michael Scherer’s excellent interview with Ezekiel Emanuel below should be required reading, and so should Ezra Klein’s interview on Monday with Senator Johnny Isakson, who has made end-of-life counseling a personal cause. It is difficult to bear the nihilist cynicism of mainstream Republicans like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh on this issue. The cruelty inherent in scaring the elderly to score political points is beyond reprehensible. I’ve had recent personal experience with this issue. In fact…

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with my elderly parents–they’re both 89 and have been together since the age of 5–trying to help them steer their way through some difficult decisions, and trying to guarantee that their decisions about the rest of their lives will be honored, even if they have lost the ability to announce those decisions themselves. This isn’t easy. My mother and her two sisters are quite frail and entirely dependent on my father, who has made no specific plans about what should happen to them should he lose the ability to take care of them. He has a living will, he thinks. My mother has often said that if she becomes severely debilitated, “Just let me die.” But I’m not sure she has made that clear in a legal document. My father is reluctant to talk about these sensitive subjects and has resisted signing a power of attorney, to be activated if he becomes incapacitated. 

My father grew up during the Depression and like many of his peers, he doesn’t like spending money on services he suspects are unnecessary. End-of-life counseling on issues like living wills and powers of attorney is something he could clearly use–from a skilled professional who, unlike me, knows the best way to describe these things and the easiest way to enact them–and he would be more likely to take advantage of this service if it were offered free-of-charge, and regularly updated, by Medicare. Although, even then, I have to admit I’m not sure he’d want to take advantage of it. 

I could say a lot more about this situation, about the  details that make it particularly difficult, but those details are, of course, private. Suffice to say that I am personally appalled and outraged that Republicans like the nitwit Palin and the showbiz demagogues Limbaugh and Hannity have chosen this particular subject to exploit. It is an issue that needs sunlight and careful explanation. It involves the saddest and most lonely moments of life–and with a population living longer and longer, it is one that affects ever increasing numbers of parents and children. 

I can understand conservatives who oppose government activism as a matter of principle. They say they hold their beliefs as a matter of respect for the rights of the individual. But the sort of scurrilous campaign they are conducting–the seditious fear-mongering that is the main staple of their public diet–is a matter of profound disrespect and incivility toward the individuals whose rights they claim to cherish. The sort of people who would conduct such a campaign can only be described as ingrates.

Update: Senator Susan Collins who, being sane, exists outside the Republican mainstream on this issue, also supports end-of-life counseling, via Greg Sargent.