Wednesday, March 3, 2010


MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been having a bit of a hard time lately.  His father is extremely ill and, after six extremely difficult months has, apparently, asked his son to kill him.  Olbermann has used this horrible situation as a 'learning experience' about 'death panels'.  He has decided to attack Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin as well (why change now?) in his recent Special Comment, and he has coined the term 'life panels' in a bid to change the perception of the legislation and make it more palatable.  The death panel issue is a bone of contention for the democrats, and they are desperate to spin it, as it has gotten a certain amount of traction with the public.

The problem is, he is talking about end of life counselling, not death panels.  This is when the doctor speaks with family members about making a plan to assist in helping a terminally ill patient finish their days in comfort and dignity.  I think most people would agree that end of life counselling for a terminally ill patient isn't such a bad thing.  Difficult, yes, but unfortunately necessary sometimes.  There were those who protested the end of life counselling, but what they were protesting was the mandated frequency of it, whether you were terminally ill or not -  not the necessity.

The so-called 'death panels' have nothing whatsoever to do with end of life counselling.  The death panels refer to the bureacrats who will be measuring your illness on the scale of "quality adjusted life years".  Under the death panels, Keith Olbermann's dad would have gotten a pain pill and cabfare home to die months ago.  The myriad tests run and procedures tried that have kept him alive to this point would never have been offered because the senior Mr. Olbermann, due to his age and obviously bad health, would have been deemed a waste of resources. 

The answer we need, Keith, is whether all that was done for your father was worth the few extra months you have been blessed to share with him.  Because the death panels in those bills aren't about end of life counselling - it's about ending your life when you're no longer viable. 

It's about being 65 years old, getting a stage four cancer diagnosis and being given morphine instead of chemo.  It's stage four, you're at retirement age - why waste the chemo when the odds are so long and you wouldn't add much to the collective if you do somehow manage to recover?  Those decisions aren't made by you and your doctor, they are made by bureacrats who create a generic actuary table on human viability and productivity.  What you have put into the system in the past doesn't matter, what counts is if you will offset the current costs.

Your 'life panels', Keith, are about you and your family making choices.  The 'death panels' are about the choices being made for you by bureacrats in Washington  with a budget.  Your father wouldn't have been given the treatment that reduced his white blood cell counts by two-thirds, he would have been given pain killers to keep him comfortable until he died.  There is no second opinion.  There is no chance of a miracle cure.  There are no more brave fights that beat the odds.

There is only the nameless, faceless bureacracy deciding your fate without ever even meeting you or your doctor.  The only way to keep this behemoth 'deficit neutral' is to keep down costs.

The wonderful new treatments, the expensive alternatives, the innovations would all be gone under the heavy weight of bureaucratic oversight.  Bureaucracies don't like experimental treatments - they are not cost effective.   Your life is merely an equations calculated by a spreadsheet - nothing more, nothing less.  Considering how tone deaf our government has become, that is a really scary prospect.

It's too bad that Keith Olbermann has decided to publicize his father's illness to make a political point,  but that is his prerogative.  It would have been a better thing to highlight the fantastic work our doctors, nurses and hospitals do, even in difficult, complex cases such as this.  Instead Mr. Olbermann has decided to climb on his soap box and use the situation to push a (erroneous) political point of view while simultaniously using his father's illness as a shield against any criticism of his stance. 

One can only hope that eventually Olby will realize the gift he was given with the six month extension of his father's life, and perhaps he will someday grasp that, if the health care legislation had been passed, he would not have had that gift.

But, after all, this is Keith Olbermann we are talking about, so don't hold your breath.

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