August 1, 2009

I'm so furious about this attempt to scare seniors, because it's so close to home: My mother just died Sunday.

We talked with my parents about all kinds of these issues in advance - but they also changed their mind about some things as they got closer to the end. My mother died peacefully in her sleep, exactly as she wanted.

My father, on the other hand, died of cancer in the hospital, talked out of the home hospice care he would have preferred by his "pro-life" activist physician. ("You don't want that, they're a little too free with the drugs." You know, because God forbid you die a few hours sooner.)

Two days before my father died, I literally had to push his doctor up against the wall and harangue him to get him to authorize the morphine he needed. And you know what this tin god did? He left an order for morphine pills "on request." (Dad could no longer swallow, and was in so much pain, he was in and out of consciousness.)

I found out the next morning and told the nurse to get him on the phone. The weenie had his associate call back instead, and he said he couldn't override the other doctor's instructions. "As long as I have you on the phone, I have another question," I said sweetly. "Dr. X also left instructions that my dad was to be resuscitated, and he told us he didn't want that. My mother says that's not her signature on the request, so it seems to me we have something of a legal problem here."

All of a sudden, he became quite helpful and offered to prescribe a morphine IV for my father.

Now, I'm a fighter, and I'm effective. But not everyone is, especially when a parent is dying. And some of those seniors have no family left to fight for them. So regular counseling about this would be a very, very good thing.

And the people who are using it to frighten seniors for their own political benefit (or a talk-radio paycheck) should rot in hell.

A campaign on conservative talk radio, fueled by President Obama's calls to control exorbitant medical bills, has sparked fear among senior citizens that the health-care bill moving through Congress will lead to end-of-life "rationing" and even "euthanasia."

The controversy stems from a proposal to pay physicians who counsel elderly or terminally ill patients about what medical interventions they would prefer near the end of life and how to prepare instructions such as living wills. Under the plan, Medicare would reimburse doctors for one session every five years to confer with a patient about his or her wishes and how to ensure those preferences are followed. The counseling sessions would be voluntary.

But on right-leaning radio programs, religious e-mail lists and Internet blogs, the proposal has been described as "guiding you in how to die," "an ORDER from the Government to end your life," promoting "death care" and, in the words of antiabortion leader Randall Terry, an attempt to "kill Granny."

Though the counseling provision is a tiny part of a behemoth bill, the skirmish over end-of-life care, like arguments about abortion coverage, has become a distraction and provided an opening for opponents of the president's broader health-care agenda. At a forum sponsored by the seniors group AARP that was intended to pitch comprehensive reform, Obama was asked about the "rumors." He used the question to promote living wills, noting that he and the first lady have them.

Democratic strategists privately acknowledged that they were hesitant to give extra attention to the issue by refuting the inaccuracies, but they worry that it will further agitate already-skeptical seniors.

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