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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

NYT’s Bill Keller Subverts Cancer Patient’s Fight



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Liberals like the New York Times’ Bill Keller always say that it is wrong to “question” a woman’s choice for an abortion. Yet, he more than questions Linda Bonchek Adams’ ongoing and painful struggle to stay in this world as catastrophic cancer tries to take her out.

Worse, strongly implies that her widely read blog–in which she apparently writes about her struggle–may be something of a disservice to society and misguided because it gives other cancer victims ”false hope.” Unbelievable.

Keller claims falsely that people who decide to cease struggling against cancer and enter hospice are somehow looked down upon as quitters. From, “Heroic Measures:”

Whether her [blogging] campaign has been a public service is a more complicated question…Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers. On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.

Only in Keller’s mind. I can’t think of any article publicly advocating that position. Nor have I ever heard a private comment to that effect. 

As I wrote the last time Keller blundered into this field, he really doesn’t know what he is writing about. In the past, he extolled the UK’s Liverpool Care Pathway that had to be suspended because it devolved into back door nonvoluntary euthanasia. Now he seems to assume that most Americans still end their days hooked up to machines in ICU units trying to get that last extra ten minutes:

​​What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently.

Good grief, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization44% of Americans–more than 1 million annually–die while under hospice care.

Given that many of the 2.5 million annual deaths involve sudden heart attacks, accidents, etc., the percentage of people with terminal illnesses who eventually enter hospice is quite high. And nobody looks down their nose!

Heck, in some ways it is the other way around. These days, the media makes celebrities out of those with serious illnesses or disabilities who announce they want to kill themselves to avoid suffering–not only eagerly following such cases, but sometimes even broadcasting suicides (BBC) or euthanasia killings (60 Minutes) on television! That’s not news, it’s advocacy.

(No, I am not criticizing the ill or disabled who become suicidal. None of us knows our own limits. How society and loved ones respond to that dark desire is a different issue.)

Back to Keller, who cowardly uses another’s voice to express his own disapproval of Adams’ popularity:

Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said he cringes at the combat metaphor, because it suggests that those who choose not to spend their final days in battle, using every weapon in the high-tech medical arsenal, lack character or willpower.

“I’m the last person to second-guess what she did,” Goodman told me, after perusing Adams’s blog. “I’m sure it has brought meaning, a deserved sense of accomplishment. But it shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage

My friend Julia fought terminal breast cancer–yes valiantly–for nine very difficult years. She took every possible treatment–at the cost of much physical distress–to extend her life. Then, when there was just nothing left to do, she entered hospice care, supported by her husband, family, and friends. Eventually, she died at home surrounded by those who loved her.  

Once, when I took her to the hospital for some radiation she said to me, fire in her eyes: “My daughters are going to know I did not leave them easily!”  And so it came to pass.

Sorry, but Julia can never receive enough praise for the fight she waged. It wasn’t about her, you see. It was about her children.

Keller’s criticism made Adams’ struggle all the more harder. Why would he do such an awful thing?

Here is what I believe is going on behind the curtains: There is a great effort underway at the highest level of the ruling and intellectual classes to devalue the struggle to stay alive. Part of it is utilitarian ideology–the idea that society can define a life not worth living. Indeed, we have seen open advocacy in bioethics for a “duty to die.”

Dovetailing with that is money: The more people don’t fight to stay alive, the more costs can be cut. Remember when President Obama opining that an elderly woman shouldn’t have had a pacemaker that successfully helped her live to 105, but instead, been told to “take the pain killer?”

Meanwhile under the UK and Oregon’s (Medicaid) explicit healthcare rationing, terminal patients who want to fight to the last ounce of their strength are told no, your lives are not worth the price of being longer lived. Heck, in Oregon, such patients have been told that the State won’t pay to extend their lives but will happily fund their assisted suicides.

Let the leukemia of Obamacare poison our national bone marrow, and that will become the norm here–to the applause of the Bill Kellers–who will increasingly denigrate those who fight to the last ounce of their devotion as a waste of resources. Indeed, this column shows that die-and-get-out-of-the-way PR campaign has already started. 



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