Friday, February 18, 2011

Sarah Palin Watch: The Death of Death Panels

Guest Post by Joe Christmas, Cheerio Girl and Sleuth

(click on cartoon to enlarge)

As Politicalgates expands and expounds, certain topics that relate to Sarah Palin, and more importantly, society as a whole, have a way of circling around. Some questions or issues can persist, and are worthy of reevaluation given their ongoing pertinence. Recently, the always relevant, misguided concept of the "death panel" came up again in discussions on this site.

A very good overview of the "death panel" fiasco is readily available as a wikipedia page titled Death Panel. However, we think the matter is worth revisiting given the nerve it touches. As someone said, "the 'death panel' never gets old."

The "death panel" comment was really a microcosm of all that is Palin -- a road map to all her despicable escapades. An uneducated remark that continues to gnaw at our national fabric. Like most of her rhetoric, it wasn't even her idea. The phrase came from the notorious propagandist Betsy McCaughey. Nonetheless, she coined its inflammatory, simplistic, jingoistic nature and is now part of Palin's history. A slander to the truth and reality of a universal experience. And all of it was done solely to advance the self-serving interests of Sarah Palin. Generally, she knows nothing of what she speaks and it serves only to advance her grifting, political ambitions.

Moreover, when the overwhelming evidence, or even common sense, forces her to react, that reaction is predictable and pitiful. Stonewalling, denying, rationalizing, reverse-victimization, Fox News cover, and eventually making light. This pattern of Palin's responses to her banal comments has been played out over and over again. The "I read all of them" and "they were surveyor's marks" both followed this pattern. And "death panels" is no exception; it has entered our lexicon; and the day to day, ongoing presence of this bitter pill lives on. Furthermore the utter hypocrisy of this woman is seen in this link, Death Panel Flip-Flop, wherein, she was for rational end-of-life thinking before she was against it.

Even worse, her statements become insults to our humanity and intelligence. Nowhere was this more apparent than the "death panel" debacle. A crude remark becomes an affront to our sensibility. Our experience with end-of-life issues is belittled, demeaned and injected with fear. Palin's calculated phrase was essentially a torpedo designed to scare people and sink the healthcare bill. Oh, and isn't it interesting that it was also her first Facebook post after her quitting the governorship of Alaska? "Death panels" thus acted as a tool of the anti-healthcare reform set, a cheap ruse to cover the abandonment of her office and a vehicle to increase the celebrity of Sarah Palin.

Healthcare professionals certainly have a unique perspective, both in quantity and quality, with end-of-life care, but, end-of-life is something we all will face -- personally, or through a loved one. Quite frankly, there is honor in attending and witnessing this part of the life cycle. What further sets healthcare providers apart is that as a result of their experience, they have all thought thoroughly about details of end-of-life care. The matters of living wills, Do Not Resuscitate, advance directives, nursing home care, hospice, etc. have all been considered on an individual basis. Not one of these people, reasonably, would call that process a "death panel." An honest, open discussion -- without fear -- is nothing but civilized and humane. For your reference here is a medical directive by state and a more national one that can act as magnanimous templates for these important, universal matters.

Even if Palin's toxic, nefarious blurb only hit her base, it was still extremely destructive. Whether you are entering into a discussion about end-of-life care individually or with a loved one, you cannot be in denial or fearful of the conversation. We see too many people who avoid the issue and often times put themselves into a corner, or hurt themselves by not taking advantage of the resources that are available. There is nothing even close to a "death panel" or government bureaucrat rationing care when doctors, nurses, social workers and families enter into end-of-life discussions. And, as the wikipedia page states: called "death panels" the "Lie of the Year"; referred to it as one of their "whoppers" of 2009. The American Dialect Society, a group of English language scholars, reported that "death panel" was their "most outrageous" word for 2009.

So, how many people had to suffer unnecessarily for Sarah's fear mongering? To this day, how many people avoid entering into humane discussions with healthcare providers because of her outlandish, selfish poison pill? How further away are we from an open forum of these universal topics? Our two-bit, poorly educated, quitter of a public official has no experience or simple understanding of the complexities involved with end-of-life care. As an illustration, here is just one anecdote (from sleuth) that shows the depth of the matter:

On what was a run-of-the-mill local volunteer firefighter/ambulance call one early morning, I drove to a house about a mile and a half from my own house in a very rural location. I got there before the ambulance arrived (firehouse was five miles away from the location). I knew the deceased patient and her family. She was in final stages of terminal brain cancer and had a legal DNR.

Unfortunately, the DNR was on file with the regional Hospice and there was no copy at the house.

While I waiting for my fire captain (who was also a senior paramedic) to arrive, the household was already in an uproar. The husband knew about the DNR, the mother was insisting that heroic measures be started, and the poor young son (about 10 years old) was in a huge state of distress.

The ambulance eventually arrived and the mother continued to insist on heroic measures saying “look! She's sweating! She can't be dead!” despite all vital signs to the contrary.

My captain agreed with my initial assessment. The woman had passed and there really was nothing to do other than create more distress. Even our resource hospital insisted that we try heroic measures.

While my captain argued with the resource hospital, while waiting for the Hospice personnel to arrive with the legal DNR, the child ran out of the house into a cornfield, just as our assistant chief arrived to try to calm the emotions.

Hospice eventually arrived with the DNR paperwork. Mother was still insisting on heroic measures. Deceased's husband was in tears in the kitchen. The child was still in the cornfield.

I was sent to find the child.

I spent several hours in the cornfield with that child. He was angry that the “grownups” raised this huge drama and didn't let him have the “quiet time” with his mom at the end to say goodbye or whatever he had prepared himself for.

The child knew his mom's time was limited, they'd talked about it and he was ready for the end.

But the “grownups” had their own opinions that didn't go along with the patient's wishes, much to the detriment of the child who DID understand. He wasn't happy about it, but he loved his mom and was ready to let her go when the time came.

“End of Life” affects many people, but none so much as those who have prepared themselves and made their wishes known, and those who RESPECT those wishes.

And "respect" for life and death is what this is all about.

We mustn't forget the damage her ill-begotten torpedo has caused. Essentially, "death panels" was rhetorical terrorism. A designed ploy to influence a group of people into a behavior she desired, i.e. media attention, diversion, and public policy. But, even though the enormous consensus is that she lied (again), she hardly paid any political price for such an egregious act. Deeper irony yet, she lied on top of a lie by claiming Trig, as "her baby", would be subject to the outrageous notion of a "death panel".

As healthcare professionals, and as human beings, we stand appalled at the callous disregard for dignity that Sarah Palin exhibited by coining the phrase "death panel". For those who care for the sick, elderly, or dying, it has hindered our stewardship. She was fed the line, and her supporters spread the untruth. There was never any effort on their part to correct or make amends with the damage it did. "Death panel" now stands in our lexicon, forever associated with Sarah Palin, as a roadblock to honest and open treatment of end-of-life issues. To us, "death panelgate" encapsulates all that is wrong with the public figure of Sarah Palin.



Reader Juicyfruity has added some important advice for this post.

Here is a registry site, for all fifty states. You can download and read about what is legal in your state and to request or fill out Advance Directive Forms. Each state, have different rules. So, if you are moving to another state and had a living will done in your previous state; you may have to change your living will, to what is acceptable, in the state you are residing in.


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