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Die with dignity

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I was almost amused by Professor Rice’s reading of the infamous “death panel” legislation (“‘Obamacare’ raises problems;” Sept. 8). After all, it takes a special combination of vision and creativity to interpret the bill in the manner he suggests. The language of the bill simply adds advanced care planning and end-of-life consultations to the list of “medical services” covered under Medicare, giving it coverage comparable to cancer and diabetes screening, psychologist services and other preventative services.

Bottom line: If a person chooses to talk about end-of-life issues with a doctor, Medicare will cover the cost of that appointment. To read that provision as the first step in a secret congressional plot to encourage “Grandma … to relieve the burden on her family” (presumably by killing herself) takes a uniquely macabre mentality. Like all other provisions of Medicare, such consultations would be voluntary, and according to the Associated Press the bill “would block funding for counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.”

But while I was almost amused, I was mostly saddened that Professor Rice would try to dissuade people from engaging in end-of-life planning with scare tactics, and that he would try to prevent the government from paying for those who wish to plan ahead but are reliant on Medicare.

I’m not sure if Professor Rice has ever watched a love one pass away (I pray that he has not), but I have. My father died of cancer in 1992, only three months after he was first diagnosed. I watched him and my mother struggle to plan for the future while he was lying on what would become his deathbed. I saw the number of decisions that had to be made. And while they shielded me from the painful realities of the situation, I’m sure they discussed palliative care, resuscitation orders and what would happen when things got bad. Fortunately, my father was covered under private insurance; if he had been on Medicare under current law, meetings with a doctor to discuss these issues may not have been covered.

I understand that Professor Rice has serious issues with President Obama (he as previously compared the President to the “Fuhrer” who made the Nazis look “unimaginative and primitive by comparison,” and further implied that there are “serious questions as to Obama’s eligibility for the office” (“No Confrontation Necessary,” March 31). But some issues should be above partisanship. Living wills and advance care directives are about empowering sick and dying individuals to effectuate their own will even when they cannot speak; to receive care for as long as they wish, but for no longer; and to die with dignity and peace of mind. For a man so devoted to the value of life, I would have thought Professor Rice would have understood that.

Bryan MacKenzie

law student

off campus

Sept. 8