Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back on May 1, we warned you that President Obama’s health care proposals could lead to bureaucrats deciding when to “pull the plug” on an individual’s medical treatment. That awful day is drawing nearer.

In an April 28 New York Times interview, the president spoke of having government guide a “very difficult democratic conversation” about “those toward the end of their lives [who] are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.” Those statements sounded a little creepy to us. Deciding who gets denied care at the end of life should not be dependent on government cost controls.

Presidential health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and chairman of the Department of Bioethics at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, has argued that independent government boards should decide policy on end-of-life care. He also has defended rationing care more strictly for older people because “allocation [of medical care] by age is not invidious discrimination.”

It is in that light that House Republicans warn against draft Section 1233 of the House Democratic health care bill as an area of deep concern. It provides for seniors, every five years, to be provided “advance care planning consultation” for “end-of-life services.” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan warn that the provision “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”

If that fear sounds far-fetched, consider that similar things already are happening in several states. As Jeff Emanuel (no relation to the Obama officials) explains on the facing page, a panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this spring ruled that Georgia can override a doctor’s decision about how much care is warranted for a handicapped child because the state is “the final arbiter” of medical decisions.

The situation is even worse in Oregon, which has legalized “assisted suicide.” As radio host and author Mark Levin has publicized in his best-seller “Liberty and Tyranny,” the Oregon health plan last year refused to pay for a recognized drug to prolong the life of lung cancer patient Barbara Wagner even after her oncologist prescribed it. Yet the same bureaucrats told Ms. Wagner that the plan would indeed cover doctor-assisted suicide if she chose that option.

Saving her life was deemed too expensive, but paying her to die was just fine.

A year ago, on July 28, 2008, reported that such cases aren’t unique in Oregon but are becoming almost commonplace. For instance, until he raised a ruckus, 53-year-old prostate cancer patient Randy Stroup of Dexter, Ore., was denied new treatments but offered full payment if he would just agree to be killed.

As Jeff Emanuel noted in a post at the Red State blog, Oregon’s plan expressly does not cover “medical equipment or supplies which will not benefit the patient for a reasonable length of time.” Reasonableness is determined by green-eyeshade, budget-crunching bureaucrats rather than by doctors.

Mr. Obama’s government health care proposal easily could devolve into a similar nightmare. That’s reason enough for lawmakers to give this awful legislation a merciful death.

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