October 1, 2009
As a member of a hospital geriatric emergency team, I’m on the front lines of a major health care issue that needs immediate attention. The costs of keeping a person barely alive during their last few weeks of life easily run into the millions. The procedures undertaken at such times are painful and poorly thought out, and do not at all increase the quality of one’s life. The unfortunate senior who falls into the end-of-life emergency medical cycle can expect his or her final days to be miserable and lonely, with family relegated to the sidelines, while medical people rush around administering “care.” Such a person is robbed of dignity, and robbed of the right to die with loved ones nearby.
The reason why medical teams are pressured to perform endless procedures on our most ill seniors is because the legal and ethical issues at stake are in limbo. That’s because the questions raised are not just for individuals to answer, but for society as well. They are questions for a nation.
Our president injected himself into this conversation recently by pointing out the folly of the total hip replacement endured by his grandmother weeks before she died. His comment was pertinent, and any health care worker who was paying attention should have been pleased. We’ve all been there, poking and prodding someone who is well into their ninth decade of life, thinking to ourselves, “What do we think we’re doing?”
But rather than appreciating the chance to work out a helpful policy that would be good for everyone, the media pushes the Republican “death panel” distortions. All news organs mention Sarah Palin’s and Mike Huckabee’s fabrications, letting their lies go unchallenged, as if the president and the Democrats honestly want to enter the business of cutting people’s lives short. That’s ridiculous and everyone knows it. Honestly, before someone is pulled into spreading Palin’s nonsense, they should take a walk around an intensive care unit and see what’s at stake.