Friday, August 14, 2009

Death Panel Show

In yesterday's NY Daily News Dave Saltonstall writes, what appears to us to be a, "news analysis," piece in the guise of a hard news story. The story concerns the controversy over Section 1233 of the House health care bill-the one that deals with end of life care-and critiques the role of former Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey: "McCaughey, 60, is back as a self-styled expert whose writings on Obama's health care plans are increasingly being cited by agitated conservatives at town hall meetings as proof - falsely, other experts and the President himself say - that he wants to "pull the plug on Grandma."

Now, there have been quite a few observers who have noted the problematic aspects of this particular portion of the House proposal-most notably Charles Lane in the Washington Post, someone who is certainly not a part of the great right wing conspiracy. As we have noted, citing Lane: "Section 1233, however, addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones. Supporters protest that they're just trying to facilitate choice -- even if patients opt for expensive life-prolonging care. I think they protest too much: If it's all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what's it doing in a measure to "bend the curve" on health-care costs?"

And Camille Paglia-another Obama disposed observer, agrees: "As a libertarian and refugee from the authoritarian Roman Catholic church of my youth, I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a "death panel" under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin's shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate's unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished."

So why all of the demonization of McCaughey? And who does the News use for its expert rebuttal-none other than the AARP; and organization that has a lucrative dog in the Obama hunt and that has been likened to Acorn with dentures: "Betsy McCaughey's recent commentary on health care reform in various media outlets is rife with gross - and even cruel - distortions," AARP Executive Vice President John Rother said recently. In reality, the bill section simply aims to provide Medicare coverage for once-every-five-year conversations with doctors over what life-prolonging measures, if any, a patient wants taken in the event of a terminal illness or injury." (Hint: this isn't news, it's opinion coming from our buddy Dave)

The reality-to borrow a phrase-is that cost cutting, and the influx of millions of new insurees into the health care system, will inevitably lead to rationing; and one needs to be very mindful of the fact the folks are most medically costly in their last years of life. So one's concern over this provision isn't knee-jerk hysteria.

And President Obama's discussion of the hip operation his grandmother received in the last year of her life underscores the end of life care issue: “I don’t know how much that hip replacement cost,” Mr. Obama said in the interview with David Leonhardt of The Times. “I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement, just because she’s my grandmother. Whether, sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model is a very difficult question.”

Indeed it is-and, even more difficult, is who should be making this decision: "As Mr. Obama tries to translate that experience into policy for the rest of the country, the real issue is who would decide which procedures will be covered for those near the end of life." And, as Paglia's and Lane's endorsement of the McCaughey/Palin position highlights, this can't be so easily dismissed as scaremongering from the Right.

So McCaughey is providing some valuable insights; yet Saltonstall tries to diminish her arguments through an ad hominem attack: "Some critics have suggested that McCaughey is motivated by other interests - in recent years, she has collected some $23,600 per year in board fees and options from a drugmaking company, Genta Inc., although she resigned in 2007."

This path of argumentation, however, would render almost all of the stakeholders suspect in this debate-particularly the members of Congress who will have to eventually vote on any legislation. Even the AARP that is cited to debunk McCaughey's position, has its own dog in the hunt; in the form of the organization's health insurance program.

So let's stick to evaluating the soundness of the arguments being made on this most crucial and personal issue; and by all means, let's also strive for some balance. A full and thorough vetting process is now underway-and, thankfully, the auditors are the folks; and not media partisans.