Health Care Reform And The Potential For Madness Without Pity

October 21, 2009 09:00 AM

In her seminal book Dialogues with the Devil, Taylor Caldwell digs deep into a fictional Lucifer’s psyche as well as that of Saint Michael the Archangel. While it is a work of fiction, there are profound insights throughout, including Lucifer’s description of human beings who choose to do evil. He tells Saint Michael, “Evil is madness and has no pity, and therefore it is confusion thrice compounded. Evil men possess no wits. They are easily led to believe what they wish to believe.”

These succinct phrases are very applicable to that grave fear of the unknown many Americans experience at the thought of the federal government managing everyone’s health insurance. My sense is that these concerns are not far off the mark. A visit to the real world is in order before anyone jumps up to claim that Judie Brown is just a right-wing fanatic who doesn’t care about all those millions of Americans without health insurance. This persistent allegation about my intentions is false, but what I am about to share is very real.

Two years ago, at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Clinton and current Obama economics advisor, spoke candidly about health care rationing. His comments are a matter of public record. The following excerpt exemplifies the serious ethical problem in certain politicians' thought process: “[I]f you’re very old, we’re not going to give you all that technology and all those drugs for the last couple of years of your life to keep you maybe going for another couple of months. It’s too expensive...so we’re going to let you die.”

This past week, the pro-assisted suicide organization Compassion and Choices focused attention on a court case, Blick v. Connecticut, which it claims could lead to a court ruling on “whether a mentally competent, terminally ill patient’s desire to bring about a peaceful death should be considered ‘suicide.’ Connecticut physicians Gary Blick and Ron Levine are asking a Connecticut court to rule that the state assisted suicide statute does not reach their conduct in providing aid in dying.”

On her Living His Life Abundantly web site, well known EWTN personality Johnette Benkovich posted an article by journalist Susan Brinkmann that gets to the heart of why a ruling on Blick v. Connecticut could have deadly consequences: 

Opponents of assisted suicide, or aid in dying, cite the many serious problems occurring in the two U.S. states that allow assisted suicide and countries where assisted suicide is legal. For instance, a 1995 Dutch study found that 948 patients who did not request suicide were killed by their doctors.

There are also innumerable problems with the legal definition of “terminal” which has allowed many patients to commit suicide who were not dying but suffering from depression.

Pro-euthanasia groups usually cite humane reasons for ending someone’s life to gain public sympathy; however, today’s palliative care is so advanced that virtually all pain can be eliminated with the proper care. Even in those cases when pain cannot be completely alleviated, it can be reduced significantly if properly treated.

People can die with dignity naturally, without having to resort to killing.

But imagine how convenient a court decision in favor of “aid in dying” could be if cost cutting is at the root of so-called health care reform!

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine attempts to paint dementia as a terminal disease in need of a quick resolution. This news report indicates just how skewed the thinking of these researchers is: “During the last three months of life, more than 40 percent of those with end-stage dementia underwent at least one serious medical intervention -- hospitalization, emergency department visit, IV nutrition or tube feeding.”

In other words, if certain medical “experts” can redefine comfort care such as nutrition and hydration as a “serious medical intervention” and persuade family members that their loved one is better off dying now than later, starvation can become a cause of death not seen as the cruelty that it is. Medical journal articles such as this one and court cases such as Blick v. Connecticut are paving the way for health care rationing and denial of basic comfort care, regardless of what Obama-style health care “reform” supporters are telling America. There is absolutely no doubt about it.

The recent news out of Florida unequivocally proves my point. In that state, there are plans to literally bar some patients from treatment in the event of a severe flu pandemic. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports,  

Florida health officials are drawing up guidelines that recommend barring patients with incurable cancer, end-stage multiple sclerosis and other conditions from being admitted to hospitals if the state is overwhelmed by flu cases.

The plan, which would guide Florida hospitals on how to ration scarce medical care during a severe flu outbreak, also calls for doctors to remove patients with poor prognoses from ventilators to treat those who have better chances of surviving. That decision would be made by the hospital.

The flu causes severe respiratory illnesses in a small percentage of cases, and patients who need ventilators and are deprived of them could die without the breathing assistance the machines provide.

According to this report, so far the state “has not yet publicized the guidelines or solicited input from the general public.” But something is terribly wrong when such a proposal even meets the light of day. Then again, we are living in the age of Obama-style health care rationing.

When the media and the medical professionals, not to mention politicians, talk about things such as denying nutrition, hydration and/or oxygen to certain patients, think about this man in Liverpool, England, who had suffered from stomach cancer, was starved to death in a London hospice and after his death, was found to be cancer free! The news report states,“76 year-old Jack Jones had responded successfully to chemotherapy and surgery, but died of pneumonia two weeks after doctors at the Marie Curie Hospice ordered the withdrawal of food and hydration and all medication except painkillers in accordance with what is being called in British media the ‘death pathway.’”

No wonder Mrs. Jones is suing the hospice! What would you do? Could such draconian so-called palliative care measures be adopted in the USA? Would they be deemed cost-effective?

Well, as reported recently, such atrocities already do happen here. Bill Beckman, executive director of Illinois Right to Life Committee, reported the following in his blog on September 8:

A caller from Virginia today told me how her father died prematurely when a doctor and hospice decided 89 years was enough for him, since his quality of life had declined. This case begins on a positive note. A caring doctor and nurses helped this man overcome pneumonia successfully.

He was ready to go home and the family was ready to take him home when another doctor raised the issue of food aspiration, suggesting they could not take care of him on their own. The medical basis for this concern is unclear, but it created fear that affected the family’s decisions. Even though this patient had no terminal illness, the family ultimately accepted getting hospice involved.

Hospice wanted to give the patient morphine, even though he told them he was not in pain. Family members did not allow use of morphine at that time. With severe restrictions on food and water intake by mouth, he began showing symptoms of dehydration. Rather than offering an IV or feeding tube, hospice pushed morphine as the solution. When the dehydration began causing serious external symptoms, the family gave in to allow the morphine. Between the dehydration and the morphine, the patient died rather quickly.

The doctor and hospice justified the denial of sufficient food and water as observing the patient’s durable power of attorney for health care, which indicated he did not want to be kept alive by “extraordinary means.” That generic phrase allowed this patient to be denied food and water, leading to his death, even though he had no underlying terminal illness or condition.

Such anecdotal cases, coupled with public comments by political operatives such as Reich and state government proposals such as that of Florida, invite a second look at current discussions about “scarce medical resources” and “cost cutting.” Political considerations in life-and-death matters must not be based on the cruel proposition that one may save money at the expense of human lives.

This was the message of parents of children with disabilities who gathered with members of Congress on Capitol Hill recently. At their press conference, Congressman Trent Franks, whose deceased brother had Down syndrome, said, “A society is measured by how it cares for those who are down, in the shadows and in the twilight of death. Those in the shadows have the greatest things to say and God’s greatest gift is given to them.”

America’s response to the elderly, the terminally ill and the vulnerable must not be starvation, dehydration, suffocation or denial of basic, humane comfort care. But lest we forget, Taylor Caldwell’s fictional Lucifer reminds us, “Evil is madness and has no pity, and therefore it is confusion thrice compounded. Evil men possess no wits. They are easily led to believe what they wish to believe.”

Back to news