This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner on August 11, 2009.
"I recommend that you seriously consider a "do not resuscitate" order, said the seemingly nice man in the white coat. "He has diminishing quality of life. And, if he has an infection or illness, we can provide comfort care for him."
This was my first introduction to government-controlled "health care." The man he was suggesting unworthy of penicillin or CPR was my happy, loving father, a man who lit up the room with his smile and kind words, despite his dementia. A man who served his country in WWII and lived an honorable life. A man who was otherwise healthy and active.
The doctor then suggested that my father possibly brought on the dementia by drinking, thereby, I suppose, justifying that no further treatment should be wasted on him. I looked at the doctor in horror. Yes, the Irishman with the twinkle in his eye enjoyed a few beers, but did that make him less valuable as a person?
Comfort care? That is a nice way of saying, "We will withhold real treatment in order to save Medicare dollars".
I fired that doctor, but I realized how this mindset had permeated the medical system when Dad went into the hospital with a kidney infection. An emergency room doctor made similar comments. She suggested that I did not need to feed him now that he was unable to feed himself--in essence suggesting euthanasia for a man who simply had an infection treatable with antibiotics.
"I don't believe in starving old people," I shot back. "I want you to treat my father as if he were your father."
Dad's severe infection and high temperature resulted in his admittance, and he made great progress in the hospital. I'm not sure how the government defines "quality of life", but it seems that an 88 year old flirting with nurses is a pretty good sign.
Despite the persistent infection, Dad was discharged because his temperature fell one-tenth of one point below the Medicare guideline for hospitalization. I begged the doctor to let him stay, citing his Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage. The doctor insisted that Medicare ruled and that my father was safer outside of the hospital where he would be less likely to contract a secondary infection.
I did what most people do; I trusted the authoritative person in the white coat. It was a fatal mistake. The lingering infection led to complications that killed him a few weeks later.
Unfortunately, my father's story is not unusual. The elderly are sometimes euthanized by withholding care and even nourishment. A caregiver in a nursing home recently told me the story of a woman with Alzheimer's whose daughter signed an order forbidding the staff from feeding her. This woman still enjoyed walking the halls of the home and attending activities, but her disease robbed her of some functions, including the ability to eat on her own. She starved to death--a slow horrible death.
The health care legislation before Congress will codify neglect and abuse and indirect euthanasia. We've already travelled too far down this road. We must turn back. If all life is not valued, no life is valued.