On Healthcare and Death Panels

I very nearly wasted a lot of time and (digtital) breath last week on a post about the townhall meetings and the swastika painting that occurred in my current homebase (Smyrna), but I didn’t.

My post was full of ire and invective and vitriol; the same kind of stuff I was condemning and I don’t like wearing the hypocrite hat any more than anyone else.

So, instead of bringing a torch to the already burning pyre of “debate” on the topic of healthcare and “death panels”, I’ll share a couple of pertinent (in my mind) anecdotes.

First and foremost, my mother-in-law is a hospice nurse. Has been for 20-some years.

She’s kind and nurturing and knowledgeable; the perfect person to help people transition to whatever lies beyond this earthly life.

In knowing her for over 14 years, the overriding thesis I have gleaned about hospice is this: we put so much emphasis on conception (and contraception) and birth and abortion and other issues related to children/infants/fetuses, it’s a travesty that so few of us plan for the eventuality of our own ultimate demise.

Sure, no one wants to talk about death, but it’s coming for all of us whether we want to admit to ourselves and our loved ones or not.

But hospice and end-of-life counseling are incredibly misunderstood. In the reductive world of soundbites and political football, weighty issues are ultimately reduced to either “fighting” for your life or “giving up”.

I don’t want to talk about Kervorkian or Schiavo here, I want to talk about the rest of us. You and me. [If you truly want to jump down those rabbit holes, be my guest]

Yesterday’s New York Times has an incredibly in-depth article on doctors who provide palliative care and a profile of both the healthcare professionals and patients involved. It’s worth your time to read the whole thing.

For my own part, Jenn and I have both affirmed to one another (though we need to get a real will and a living will on paper) that neither of us want to be kept alive on machines as a long-term solution. If the quality of my “life” is determined by a machine keeping my organs humming while my brain is dead that’s not really “living”, that’s being undead.

Additionally, we’re trying to live our lives with as few regrets as possible so that when the time comes, we can say goodbye gracefully and with dignity, not at the whim of some resident surgeon all too eager to play God when he/she doesn’t really know us or our families.

We haven’t been shy about saying this out loud, during family gatherings and holiday time, to either of our families and we’ll discuss it with our kids as they get old enough. It’s that important.

If we took the time to plan out how we told the family we were pregnant with our kids and who we invited into the delivery room to welcome our kids into this world, don’t we owe them the same courtesy to discuss how we’d like to leave this world: who should be there, what we’d like said and done afterwords?

Anyhow, I’m off on a rant, and I’m sorry. The point here is the discussion and that you (and everyone you know) have it.

If you’d like to see some more substantive debating about the actual proposed laws and whether or not they constitute “death panels” see last night’s Daily Show [via Andrew Sullivan].

And for a funnier (in my opinion) take on the whole enchilada, see Dana Gould (on Bill Maher) (embedded below):

Oh and here’s my mother-in-law’s take on that NYT article, copied with her permission via email:

Wow. What an article. I found myself wanting to talk to Mrs Magliore. I met people like that all the time and almost always they knew exactly what was happening and just needed someone to say it out loud for them and then give them the OK not to persue treatment. It’s the opposite of what you would think. You are not taking away hope at all, you are acknowledging what the person already knows and letting them know you are not going to run away but that you will walk with them the rest of their path.

Lastly, this napkin presentation is pretty cool (Thanks, Thomas!)

Stay healthy!

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