Flirting with euthanasia

I appreciate the honesty, if not the perspective. 

“We need death panels,” Steven Rattner, former counselor to the Treasury secretary in President Barack Obama’s administration, wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

It was charged — most notably by Sarah Palin — that the Affordable Care Act would create bureaucratic “death panels” that meant Grandma would be rejected for medical treatment when she got sick. 

“No! No! A thousand times no” was the response. Nothing of the kind. Which was true, except for the fact that since then, there have been people arguing that death panels might not be such a bad idea, after all. 

Like Rattner in The New York Times. Stating that the “exploding cost of Medicare will swamp the federal budget,” he blames the elderly who have the temerity to get sick — more particularly, those who get sick and die but not soon enough. 

“The big money in Medicare,” he writes, can be found “in reducing the cost of treating people in the last year of life, which consumes more than a quarter of the program’s budget.” 

The late George Carlin used to think it would be really neat if we each had a “two-minute warning” before we died, kind of like in football. A whistle would blow as we wandered along on our merry way, letting us know that we had 120 seconds to wrap things up. 

The Rattners of the world seem to believe that Grandma has a 365-day warning. She wakes up one morning and realizes she has 365 days left, so she might as well start soaking Medicare for everything it has. 

Life — and illness and death — are hardly so cut and dry. My dad was sitting at a bar 365 days before he died, enjoying a beer and watching a game. My brother was on a fishing trip in Montana. My mother was in her apartment reading a book and planning dinner. 

They experienced illness during what would become their last year. They got sick and even sicker, but all three didn’t know — nor did their doctors — that their time had come until it was virtually on top of them. 

The Rattners of the culture seem to believe that there is this vast conspiracy of waste among the elderly and their families, grasping for a few more useless weeks of life. 

No, what the elderly experience is sickness. They seek help. Rattner would have them first argue their case in front of a death panel. 

It’s a puzzlement that a program specifically created and designed to serve the medical needs of the elderly is faulted because it serves the medical needs of the elderly. It’s like blaming the retired for collecting Social Security benefits. 

I do not pretend to have expertise that I lack. I do not know if it is a fact that Medicare is about to swamp the budget. I do not know which of the proposals to address that alleged fact is the best route to take. 

What I do know, however, is that all kinds of people flirt with euthanasia as a solution to all kinds of problems. And that’s very scary stuff. 

I know. Rattner doesn’t perceive his proposal as euthanasia. It’s not like he is advocating summarily executing the sick elderly. But what he is arguing is effectively the same thing. 

Cut them off, rather than kill them directly. Make them feel guilty for seeking medical help through a program they subsidized their whole working lives. 

Most of all, make everyone pinpoint what few can pinpoint — that moment when a sick elderly person has become a dying elderly person. 

You don’t have to shoot somebody in the head under those conditions. The results are exactly the same: 

Dead old people. 

Money saved. 

Problem solved. Except for the collective loss of our souls. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.