The Inevitable Personal Decision   Leave a comment

Six Years After “Death Panels” Iowans and other Conservatives Need A Reality Check

March 29, 2015

Years ago I looked on Iowa’s Senators as the best of both worlds. One Republican, one Democrat. One conservative and one progressive. But that was, indeed, many years ago. When Senator Tom Harkin chose to hang it up and retire from his senate seat, and the state of Iowa wouldn’t, or couldn’t find an electable replacement, it was a bit like reading Inferno. Joni Ernst would become “Grassley in Training”. If Dante Alighieri needed a character to expand senatorial idiocy, he would have written a part specifically for the likes of Ernst. Any day now I expect the United States Senate to add a sign so that everyone entering the chamber could have a gut check: “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter”.

The GOP had been salivating to show the world how governing works. And since the new congress was sworn in, little has been done. Except, of course, talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The fixation Republicans have on dismantling the law is remarkable, and the damage that will be done should a true non-believer like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or Donald Trump, etc., become president, is almost incalculable. You may recall that the demonization of the ACA got a real boost during the policy debate in 2009 and 2010 from none other than Senator Charles Grassley. But why the focus today, March 29, 2015? The New York Times  made me do it. Sort of.

In 2009, Grassley was senior enough, and respected enough, that he might have engaged his constituency in an honest debate about the ACA. With almost 30 years in the senate, and with the world’s largest ethanol lobbying group supporting him (the state of Iowa, in case you were wondering), Grassley has never been likely to lose an election in his home state. And with the debate for and against the ACA, Grassley couldn’t (or chose not to) find the good things in the bill and consider participating in the process. But what was most egregious was his cheap, Tea Party-esque jump onto the loony bandwagon, embracing of all people, the idiotic half-governor Sarah Palin. She helped begin the rhetorical cesspool-diving contest by suggesting that the ACA would have “death panels” to make end of life decisions for people, instead of with people. Grassley offered this:

“‘There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life,’ Grassley said. ‘And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you’re going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don’t have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.'”

You’ll note I didn’t simply print the last-line of Grassley’s little tirade, as I wanted to be fair, and have his remarks in context. Nevertheless, his remarks are still ludicrous for two reasons. First, his reading of the legislation is like conservative Christians (and other religious or just plain shy people) insisting that no outsider will talk to their children about sex. Recall the old joke(?), my kids will learn about sex the same way I did: in the backseat of my dad’s car. The Guttmacher Institute released evidence from a 2006-2008 study confirming the premise that Sex Education Delays Teen Sex. Believe it or not, like sex education, when the subject of end-of-life planning happens earlier—rather than later—outcomes can be changed. Second, the planning needs the option of outsiders being part of the conversation. It’s often easier to ask questions or talk about the “what-ifs” to a non-family member, rather than mom or dad, or sister or brother, or son or daughter. Which brings me to the New York Times.

The March 29, 2015 Times has an article that everyone should read. Titled “Teenagers Face Early Death, on Their Terms“, the article is a must-read, and a must read for Charles Grassley and those who are like-minded. Waiting for family members to have a conversation about death is often as successful as waiting for Godot. So the conversation should be initiated within the family or inner circle of friends, before anyone gets sick, and certainly before pain, drugs, and imminent death eviscerate any likelihood of a rational conversation. A friend of mine, Maggie Watson, got me thinking about this a few years ago with the publication of her book A Graceful Farewell: Putting Your Affairs in Order. Maggie (who is alive and well) was thinking about it and passed along a valuable guide and lesson that Grassley, Palin, and others should read instead of attacking the process. Today’s Times reminds us that if some raging-hormonal teenagers can comprehend and make rational decisions about sex, and other teenagers can make rational end-of-life decisions about death, something, as Sherlock Holmes might say, is afoot. If teenagers can be rational, maybe even Grassley and Palin—well Grassley anyway—can get on board. It is time to bring death and dying out of the closet. Let’s place it front and center on the dining room table. Talk about it. Deal with it. And then treat it like the red box on the walls of public spaces: Just know it’s there. Pull Alarm In Emergency. Open only when needed.

David Steffen

© 2015 David Steffen


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