Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Mom, Sarah Palin, and Death Panels

I want to write about health care, and there will be a post on one of my favorite subjects, cooperatives, coming along soon, but first I wanted to write on the subject of the week, death panels, the Republican contention that comprehensive health care reform, by offering end of life planning, is the first step towards euthanasia. As far as I can tell, this campaign, as mendacious and meretricious as any Republican endeavor at dissembling in the recent past, is having a positive short term effect in slowing down the progress of Obama’s health care bill, though it was likely to find itself in the fillibusterable bog and muck of the US Senate anyway. So the death panel campaign has I guess it has been politically useful in the short term. But I cannot but think that it will be, in the end, a tremendous benefit for the democrats.

This debate has been unfolding over the past few weeks, since Jane and myself have moved my extremely physically and mentally debilitated mother (she doesn’t recognize me) into our house. Most people have said we were crazy to do this. The truth is, there really weren’t any other options, and without going into a very, very long story, nursing homes were too expensive, putting her into an apartment would be too much work, so it seemed easiest to follow the time honored expedient of placing an elderly and sick person under the roof of a relative.

And though I think that I and my surviving brother are reasonably smart (between me and wife and my brother and his wife there are two Ph.Ds and two law degrees) we badly screwed up end of life planning, in part because of the inability of my increasingly mentally burdened mom to cooperate with us, and in the end the government has given us little or no assistance, financially or otherwise.

Jane and I are doing our best to keep my mom comfortable and out of pain, and I think we are doing a good job, and it has its compensations. Jane has been a nurse for thirty years, but its only in the past month that I have discovered my inner Florence Nightingale.

But there are problems and tensions. We are frightened that unless we have all of our papers in order, if something happens, the government might force us to keep my mom alive on a vent or life support, against our will. In short, I think the Republicans have misjudged the public mood as badly as during the Terri Schiavo hoo-hah.

The worry is not that the government will intervene to end the life of a loved one, but that the government will intervene to keep someone alive against the wishes of their closest relatives. The fear is not that the government will officiously and ham-fistedly intervene to tell people how to live their declining years, but that the government, will, as it now does, do absolutely nothing at all, other than to say, as they have in effect to us—“okay, life is a goddamn bitch, and we’re sorry about your mom, but you know, it just ain’t our problem. You figure it out, and be sure to keep good records so we can make sure you didn’t do anything wrong.”

All of us will die, and most of us will need help in dying good deaths, and most of us don’t have the spiritual, intellectual, or financial resources to do this adequately without some sort of government assistance. Every time I put on a new pair of gloves to change my mom’s diaper, I think of Sarah Palin.

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