Let’s dispense quickly with any politically motivated twisting of death and dying in 2011.
We don’t need to reignite the insanity that spun the term “death panels” into the health care debate in 2009.
Expect much wrangling about health care reform as Republicans flex their newly elected collective strength to undermine the goals of the Obama administration. Fine, it is to be expected. Room exists to debate measures intended to solve the nation’s health care quandaries and ensure that Americans wind up healthier for the efforts.
But let’s hope the American public doesn’t fall for the same trick twice as the topic of end-of-life care arises. I’m hedging that we won’t. Increasingly, many of us are caring for aging parents, experiencing firsthand the struggle to make decisions for loved ones when that person can no longer voice their own wishes about care.
So President Obama did us a great favor by enacting via regulation what Congress shirked from doing by legislation. He’s nudging a reluctant nation closer to embracing in policy an emerging theme for this generation: the dramatic shift in the numbers of elderly within society.
As of Jan. 1, doctors can be reimbursed through Medicare for consultations about end-of-life care or advance planning.
This is not a step toward euthanasia. And “death panels” do not exist. That lie was first floated by Sarah Palin via her Facebook page. Neither Palin, nor politically fueled Facebook postings are where people should turn for critical advice on health care. Go to a trusted physician.
And unless you are secretly holding a potion to ensure eternal youth, this applies to everyone. It’s not mandatory, however. Purely voluntary, if you are so inclined and covered by Medicare.
But now doctors can be reimbursed for counsel about these deeply personal decisions.
My 89-year-old mother’s final months coincided with the ludicrous claims made about advance directives in 2009.
So while then-House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Thad McCotter of Michigan issued a statement warning of “a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing and physician-assisted suicide,” my mother was facing her own end, an end that she believed to be deemed by God, not by the government.
In fact, she found such political bleating absurd. Ever the intrepid spirit, she gave me permission to write of her experiences, but only after she was gone.
Mother planned well. She had a will, a designated power of attorney and was very clear about her faith’s views on death.
She had a do-not-resuscitate order, signed and resigned and resigned again at every turn in her care. Forms were filled out when she went into the hospital after a fall, when she went to a rehabilitation center, when she exited there and returned to her assisted-living apartment, when she moved to the downstairs wing of the same facility for increased care and when she re-entered the hospital.
The irony is that for all the cries of government intrusion, advance planning is the opposite. People are simply asked what they prefer, about their beliefs on quality of life and what constitutes life to them. My mother was adamantly opposed to abortion. But she didn’t want to be kept alive in a comatose state by machines if she had no hope for recovery — and especially if she had lost her mental abilities.
That was never an option anyway with her health needs. But her experiences completely contradict the shock tales once told by many politicians. To my mother, an avid follower of the news, it was the politicians who sounded opportunistic. She thought they made it sound as if the elderly are forced to sign on a dotted line and then care is withheld by an administrator, file folder in hand.
I can still recall one of her exasperated replies: “Oh, that’s just silly. How can people be so gullible?”