Thursday, August 13, 2009

Death with Dignity Panels

So, I've gone from thinking I wouldn't post anything on the healthcare-reform debate to posting on it twice in two days. 

The Senate has removed the portion of their bill that allows Medicare to pay doctors for counseling sessions with patients regarding advance care and end-of-life planning. (Right now, it's still in the House version of the bill.) 

Just to be clear, these counseling sessions are happening already. End-of-life planning often occurs when someone becomes terminal. Patients will sit down with their team to discuss their options for resuscitation, hospice care, pain management, comfort, etc. 

What this particular bill provision addresses is not the actual conversation but Medicare coverage of the conversation. By paying doctors for time they are now not getting paid for, they may be encouraged to hold even more end-of-life consults—thus allowing more people to openly discuss how to create the best death possible for themself, making this blogger very happy. 

And yet, proponents of it are pushing fear in our faces, speaking as though passage would magically make death come sooner. As though the government is going to be paying off doctors to tell patients it's time to go. 

The American Medical Association supports this provision. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization supports this provision. These are two highly reputable organizations. Plus, to insinuate that individual doctors would go against their ethical, sworn duty to "first do no harm" and actually give up on patients because they're given money from Medicare, is incredibly insulting. 

Sarah Palin has infamously gone so far as to call these "death panels," which is so absurd, I don't even know how to address the claim.

When I hear these arguments, I can't help but flash back to some of the anti–death with dignity arguments

One of the big arguments against death with dignity—one of the fallacy, weak arguments—is that insurance companies will use the legislation to push people into death so that they don't have to pay for continued treatment. (Remember the Martin Sheen ad?) 

Well, if you replace "insurance company" with "the government" and "death with dignity" with "healthcare reform," this is basically the same argument being paraphrased and reshot at us. 

It's inaccurate, and it's fear-based, and it's a shame that it looks like it might pull the public away from more information and better choices. 


hospicephysician said...

Amen, Jessica, thanks for this post. I am tired of having hearing people talk about these "death panels". I even had a debate with another physician about this. The other day I was doing a hospice visit for a patient with End Stage Parkinson's and the daughter said "If Obama had his way, he would give my mom a pill" What?!?! My jaw dropped. This is the kind of stuff that people are believing. I kindly and graciously corrected her and explained the bill in more detail so she would understand that the intent is not to decide when to "kill" people.

Jessica Knapp said...

Thanks hospice physician. The dialogue is all getting fear-based and scary.

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