Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let a million death panels bloom

Here's an article from Great Britain about Christine Ball, a woman who had to fight to save the life of her mother, Hazel Fenton, after the government's doctors decided her mother (who is currently still living, nine months later) had only days to live when she arrived at the hospital with pneumonia and decided, over Ball's objections, to deny her food and let her starve to death as part of the hospital's "Pathway" program for the terminally ill. Fenton went without food for twelve days before her daughter was able to convince her doctors to relent.

This only came out in public because Christine Ball was willing to 1. challenge the opinion and expertise of the doctors, and 2. continuously and persistently argue with them until they backed down. I doubt that happens very often, given the quasi-priestly status the medical profession has, so I'd be surprised if this were some isolated incident that came out because it just happened by sheer chance to involve one of the rare people who would speak up. Of course, I'm the kind of awful cynic who wonders if the additional government involvement liberals are advocating in health care now might set the stage for even more government control down the line, and gets suspicious when the police claim that the security cameras in the station just happened to break down and stop recording 30 seconds before a calm, compliant suspect with no criminal record suddenly went berserk and had to be cudgeled to death in self-defense, so perhaps I'm biased.

This is a valuable reminder that the idea that government health care would involve "death panels" is just irresponsible Republican scare mongering. "Death panels" suggests some sort of centralized decision-making body choosing who to dispose of, and carries the implication that such a body would have known, readily identifiable members subject, at least in theory, to public scrutiny and accountability.

Baseless right-wing nonsense! Hospital administrators or individual doctors can decide who isn't worth trying to keep around without bringing the federal bureaucracy into it, and quietly let them die (or kill them outright, Dutch-style) without unduly agitating reactionaries who think there's something bothersome about giving people fatal drug overdoses without consulting their opinion on the matter, or abandoning deformed babies to die, or just killing them, or whatever else wins the endorsement of the Enlightened and Compassionate and Progressive. (I will be shocked if open advocacy of legal infanticide has not become a common, mainstream position among American liberals within the next 20 years, and among moderates within 30.) There's no need for "death panels" or other conservative bogeymen when the staff of your local hospital is already perfectly qualified to decide which people are surplus to the government's requirements and act accordingly.

Hat tip: Crash Landing.

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1 comment:

cherylcline said...

Thanks for the post, John. You are correct to point out that we already have informal death panels. The organ transplant system is, in my experience, the most glaring example of a de facto death panel, but it is otherwise becoming increasingly mainstream to advocate killing at both ends of the lifespan. (Though we hear about the number of deaths on the organ transplant waitlist, we are not told that there is a struggle just to get onto the list in the first place. Doctors decide who is too sick or "psychologically unsuitable" to even get on the waitlist, and so the numbers don't account for the deaths of those who don't make it onto the list, or who are removed if it is seems that they won't survive surgery. These are all incredibly subjective criteria, but due to what you call the "quasi-priestly" status of doctors, they are difficult to challenge.)

You are also right that a story like Christine Ball's is rare; many family members won't challenge doctors. This isn't even to touch on the plight of those without family, who have no one to advocate for them, and whose stories will never make it into the press.