The Corner

Palin Was Right on the “Death Panels” — A Dissent from Today’s NRO Editorial

Monday’s NRO editorial, “Rationing and Rationality,” is fine insofar as it takes aim at the disaster that would be bureaucratic healthcare rationing — particularly, Obamacare’s likely (I’d say inevitable) accelerator affect effect on the drive to euthanasia when added to the already “baleful trends among bioethicists” that the editors cite.  But I respectfully dissent from this passage:

To conclude from these possibilities to the accusation that President Obama’s favored legislation will lead to “death panels” deciding whose life has sufficient value to be saved — let alone that Obama desires this outcome — is to leap across a logical canyon. It may well be that in a society as litigious as ours, government will err on the side of spending more rather than treating less. But that does not mean that there is nothing to worry about. Our response to Sarah Palin’s fans and her critics is to paraphrase Peter Viereck: We should be against hysteria — including hysteria about hysteria.

I don’t see any wisdom in taking a shot at Governor Palin at this moment when, finding themselves unable to defend the plan against her indictment, Democrats have backed down and withdrawn their “end-of-life counseling” boards. Palin did a tremendous service here. Opinion elites didn’t like what the editors imply is the “hysteria” of her “death panels” charge. Many of those same elites didn’t like Ronald Reagan’s jarring “evil empire” rhetoric. But “death panels” caught on with the public just like “evil empire” did because, for all their “heat rather than light” tut-tutting, critics could never quite discredit it. (“BusHitler,” by contrast, did not catch on with the public because it was so easily refuted.) 

The editors implicitly concede that Palin is on to something. Indeed, from an Obamaesque perch, they find themselves admonishing both “Sarah Palin’s fans and her critics.” With due respect, there’s a right side and a wrong side on this one. Above the fray is not gonna cut it.

Sure, the editors acknowledge, there’s lots of reason to be worried that we’re speeding down the road toward euthanasia and that Obamacare could make things worse. But it’s somehow “to leap across a logical canyon” to suggest that death panels are imminent or that they are what Obama wants. 

On the latter, who cares what Obama personally wants? I don’t see why we should play into the personality cult that the Left is hoping will overcome the deep substantive flaws in the president’s policies. I happen to think that something like death panels is exactly what is desired by Obama — who is an abortion extremist, who supported a form of infanticide when he was an Illinois state legislator, and who has wondered aloud about the value of end-of-life care provided for his own grandmother. But Obama’s personal feelings are beside the point. What matters is what’s in the bill. 

In suggesting it’s hyperbole to say death panels are — or were — in the bill, the editors engage in a little hysteria of their own, describing the function of such panels as “deciding whose life has sufficient value to be saved.” But few people worried about death panels think the process will be anything so crude. It will be what Mark Steyn described in his column this weekend: the bureaucrats won’t pull the plug on you; they will gradually restrict your access to various forms of treatment while you wither away prematurely. Maybe if Palin had called them “Dying on the Vine Panels” our opinion elites would have been more understanding — though I doubt it, Palin derangement syndrome having proved itself more infectious than Bush derangement syndrome.

The editors further suggest that Palin could be wrong — not that she is wrong, but she could be. After all, they reason, “it may well be that in a society as litigious as ours, government will err on the side of spending more rather than treating less.” 

Really? First of all, there is no more to spend. Second, the editors themselves admit at the very beginning of the editorial that “rationing is inevitable in medicine. Not everything that might be in a patient’s best interest can be done in a world of finite resources.” The whole point of health-care “reform” is to enable something other than the combination of individual liberty and market forces — namely, government bureaucrats — to do the inevitable rationing. Third and finally, as I discuss in my column this morning, the Obamacare proposal has a remedy for “a society as litigious as ours”: it systematically cuts off access to the courts so that the decisions of the executive branch are final. The bill is designed to insure against litigation pressure to spend more rather than treat less.

I think Palin was right to argue her point aggressively.  Largely because she did, a horrible provision is now out of this still horrible Obamacare proposal. To the contrary, if the argument had been made the way the editors counsel this morning, ”end-of-life counseling” would still be in the bill. We might have impressed the Beltway with the high tone of our discourse and the suppleness of our reasoning, but we’d have lost the public. I respectfully dissent.


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