Friday, August 21, 2009

Why was Death Counselling a bad idea in Health Reform?

Sarah Palin struck a nerve by claiming that the Democratic Health Reform bills contained provision for (or would inevitably lead to) "Death Panels" deciding who would live and who would die? After much back and forth, it was revealed that it was the "death counseling" portion of the bill that triggered this accusation. Many advocates claim such end-of-life planning is critical, while others claim it is merely an excuse to end the lives of the helpless.

Charles Krauthammer has posted one of the more reasoned and thoughtful pieces on the subject. It reminds us that health care decisions are NOT private things, but rather collective decisions made by both us and those who love us.

My own living will, which I have always considered more a literary than legal document, basically says: "I've had some good innings, thank you. If I have anything so much as a hangnail, pull the plug." I've never taken it terribly seriously because unless I'm comatose or demented, they're going to ask me at the time whether or not I want to be resuscitated if I go into cardiac arrest. The paper I signed years ago will mean nothing.

And if I'm totally out of it, my family will decide, with little or no reference to my living will. Why? I'll give you an example. When my father was dying, my mother and brother and I had to decide how much treatment to pursue. What was a better way to ascertain my father's wishes: What he checked off on a form one fine summer's day years before being stricken; or what we, who had known him intimately for decades, thought he would want? The answer is obvious.

Except for the demented orphan, the living will is quite beside the point.

1 comment:

Mrs. Bowhunter said...

A lot of the time a living will means squat. Working in an intensive care unit, I have seen many living wills ignored, and the family's wish honored. It really is ashame. I also see can feel for the family as a loved one lays in bed dying, and they just want to prolong those last few moments together. However, as a nurse, it's a difficult thing to administer medications and treatments to a patient you know who is dying and you are just torturing them to give that family member their last few moments.