Watching the struggle for health care reform has been morbidly fascinating. Nearly everybody agrees that the system in place right now in the United States needs serious help, but that's the only common ground to be had. Conservatives accuse liberals of creeping statism with the plan under consideration in Congress, while liberals accuse conservatives of not providing alternatives. And then there are the death panels.
If you didn't hear about it, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page that the reform bill would create what she called "death panels," an impassive group of government arbiters who would decide whether people were productive enough to justify the medical expenses that would keep them alive. Palin claimed that government bureaucrats might decide that her son Trig, who has Down's Syndrome, would be cheaper to kill than to treat.
The reason it's so hard to have a productive debate in this country is because of nonsense like this. There is no "death panel" provision. This all springs from an amendment originally introduced by the Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, of Georgia, which would extend Medicare coverage to "end-of-life counseling" with doctors. What this means is that you can make decisions about how you'll want doctors to proceed when you are debilitated and nearing death, and spare your family the agony of making such important decisions at an emotionally taxing time. The bill would allow doctors to be reimbursed for their time. Shocking, I know.
End-of-life counseling is something everybody should do. Having laws in place to make it easier to do so will benefit everyone. Revisit the Terri Schiavo case to find out what happens when you don't have a living will in place. (Speaking of government bureaucrats deciding who lives and who dies...) Yet somehow this has been drummed up into an hysteria-inducing controversy, despite the fact that it's invented out of whole cloth.
There may be excellent, substantive arguments against health care reform. I would love to hear them, instead of this fear-mongering about death panels. But I don't hold out much hope. After all, we live in a country where people drive hours to scream at elected officials who want to provide them health care.
Oh, and there's this guy, too.