Recently, Sarah Palin and other prominent Republicans have repeated claims that the proposed health care legislation would result in the creation of so called "death panels."This claim was quickly determined to be an egregious falsehood. However, the damage was already done and all elements of the proposed legislation that dealt with end-of-life issues were removed. My father has a piece up at the Oxford University Press Blog arguing that in fact death panels aren't such a bad idea. Essentially, the point is that one of the major reasons our health care costs are so high in the United States is because we go through tremendous effort to extend life during the last few months of life for many elderly. It is an issue very much worth discussing.
However, there are two related matters I'd like to mention. First, we should not lose track of how incredibly mendacious Palin and her compatriots have been about this matter. The fact that Bush's earlier proposed health care legislation had nearly identical end-of-life provisions is just one of the many ways in which Palin has simply become divorced from anything resembling reality. At this point, one must wonder if reality has taken out a restraining order on Palin.
Second, as someone who grew up with a very Jewish ethic about end-of-life issues it is emotionally very hard to agree to actively deciding that we will no longer provide health care to certain people. In classical Jewish thought, every effort must be made to continue to sustain life, regardless of cost. However, this view was constructed when medical technology was very different. Two-thousand years ago we didn't have the option to add a few painful months of life to someone at the cost of millions of dollars. We do now. This different situation may require serious reexamining of this sort of belief. This probably isn't an issue for most people in the US or at least the form it will take will be very different. Catholicism for example has for a long time tried to make a distinction between ordinary and extraordinary standards of medical care. In event, as medical technology becomes even more advanced, more and more value systems are going to need to serious think about these issues. Go read his piece here.
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