No death panels, but let’s talk about how America dies

Sarah Palin and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa both earned themselves blazing headlines by warning seniors that the health care legislation in the House set up so-called death panels that would decide when granny and granddad should die.
They were trying to scare old folks into opposing health care reform, but no death panels lurk in those pages or are hidden between the lines. Any student of American politics would have pooh-poohed the idea without doing a lick of research: seniors vote, no politician in his or her right mind would dream of such a thing.
That said, it is really no surprise that the rumor was started or that those opposed to reform picked it up so quickly. One-third of the annual Medicare budget — about $67 billion — is spent taking care of those in the last two years of their lives. End-of-life care must be a very important part of the national conversation on health care re-form.
Death panels aren’t the answer, Sarah and Charlie to the contrary not-withstanding. The conversation should start by listening to the old and ill.
Study after study has determined that most of the elderly want to die at home and do not want to end their days tethered to IVs while a respirator breathes for them and a pacemaker signals their heart when to beat. Neither do they want to be subjected to endless tests and image-taking. They know what’s the matter with them: their “disease” is called aging, which always morphs into dying. It’s natural; happens to all living things.
Those who have studied health care economics agree that the cost of health care will never be brought under control until the way we die in America changes: Less intensive care; more empathetic caring; more hundreds of dollars spent on home health care; fewer hundreds of thousands spent on “doing everything science can do” to keep those vital signs beeping on the bedside monitor; more reliance on what granny, granddad and the kids think is the best; less oath-driven determination to keep pushing back the inevitable, hour after excruciating hour.
There will be no death panels. But neither will Ms. Palin or Sen. Grassley discover the Fountain of Youth and lead our seniors to it. Despite them, death will remain a fact of life. The question is how Americans will choose to die. Today, that decision is most often made by others and the result all too often is an expensive nightmare.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.