Proponents deny that this bill will devalue older people’s lives or encourage them to except less care to save money. But it was President Obama himself who suggested that seniors who don't have as long to live might want to consider just taking a pain pill instead of getting an expensive operation to cure them. Yet when Sen. Kennedy was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 77, did he give up on life and go home to take pain pills and die? Of course not. He freely did what most of us would do. He choose an expensive operation and painful follow up treatments. He saw his work as vitally important and so he fought for every minute he could stay on this earth doing it. He would be a very fortunate man if his heroic last few months were what future generations remember him most for.Huckabee is not alone in his hypocrisy.
Huckabee's comments are also deceitful. Patients have a constitutional right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment (even conservative Supreme Court justices agree with this). Medical professionals already provide this information to their patients, but organizations like the American Medical Association have concluded that they should do so with even greater frequency.
When people refuse life-sustaining measures, medical professionals often give them palliative treatment to ease their pain and discomfort. I do not know what happened to Kennedy during his last months or days, but it is probably safe to assume he was given prescription painkillers following surgery and probably during the last days of his life. It is also likely that Kennedy's doctors told him at some point prior to his death that they could not do anything else to treat his cancer. It is also possible that they told him last year that surgery would only momentarily delay the inevitable consequences of the cancer.
The proposed healthcare reform would facilitate these types of healthy conversations between patients and medical providers, and President Obama has never stated anything to the contrary. The pending measure would not devalue seniors or urge them to end their lives, as Huckabee's comments suggest. The minister is simply exploiting the public's discomfort with issues related to death and dying for political purposes.
Huckabee, Death Panels and Rationing of Care
Finally, I find it appalling that Huckabee states that "most of us" would have elected the expensive surgery that Kennedy chose to undergo once he discovered he had cancer. It is abundantly clear that most people without health insurance would not have chosen the path that Kennedy followed. They would not have been able to pay for it.
Moreover, it is not even clear that most people with health insurance would have pursued this treatment option, given the stage and type of cancer Kennedy had. This is exactly why it is important for people to receive counseling concerning their medical options. Huckabee does not know how most Americans would have responded to the information that Kennedy's physicians gave him.
Kennedy strongly supported liberal healthcare reform. Although Huckabee discusses Kennedy's "heroic last few months," his distortion of the pending legislation undermines Kennedy's legacy. If conservatives block universal coverage, millions of Americans will continue to live without health insurance. When these uninsured individuals become severely ill, they will not have the ability to demonstrate their "heroic" drive to live. Medical care in the United States will remain drastically different for the "haves" and "have nots" (have = insured). If conservatives truly want to condemn people who support "death panels" and "rationing" of care, they need to look in the mirror.