Human Exceptionalism

Assisted Suicide Advocate Slanders Physicians as Torturers

Now that the assisted suicide movement believes it has some winds in its sails, its pretense of being reasonable and measured is collapsing under the ideological zeal that drives the movement.  Case in point: The head of Compassion and Choices, Barbara Coombs Lee, has written an outrageous piece in the Huffington Post, that libels health care providers as torturers.  From her piece:

In this country we usually torture people before we allow them to die of whatever is killing them — cancer, emphysema, the multi-organ failure of diabetes or heart disease…Our medical-industrial complex follows a cultural paradigm to do as many things to people near death as is medically possible. Our broken system rewards that paradigm with fee-for-service payments.

Standard routine is to torture those in the process of dying by inflicting upon them a host of toxic chemicals, invasive machinery and painful surgeries. It’s the American way of dying — agonized and prolonged imprisonment in an intensive care unit, pinned down under a maze of tubes and machines, enduring one medical procedure after another, unable to hold or be held by loved ones.

What shameless and false demagoguery. The vast majority of people in this country do not die in ICU units. Hospitals aren’t prisons. Doctors aren’t torturing people, they are trying to treat them, which can be painful to be sure, but much effort is made to control painful and uncomfortable symptoms.  Nobody ties people down and forces them to have chemotherapy, surgery, kidney dialysis, etc.  Most people are desperate for these interventions–even when the doctor advises against because they are unlikely to do much good.  Moreover, most care these days is not fee for service, it is managed care through the HMO system. Fee for service to physicians under Medicare is hardly a cornucopia, and in fact is being continually cut–including in the new health care plan.

But she isn’t just implying that physicians are torturers, she accuses them of being sadistic:

Oncologists entice their dying patients into bearing one more, experimental round of chemotherapy almost certain to intensify toxic symptoms without extending life. Surgeons repair the fractures and amputate the limbs of people clearly only a few weeks from death. The newest medical specialists, “hospital intensivists” deftly thread tubes into failing hearts and attach ventilators to decrepit lungs. Much of the pain they inflict does nothing but monitor the chemistry and pressures of internal crevices and gather the information necessary to thwart a body trying to shut itself down.

I know that Coombs Lee knows this isn’t true. She is well aware that Futile Care Theory is charging down the tracks, which is explicitly intended to prevent patients from receiving life-extending care when the bioethicists think the quality of their lives aren’t worth the money spent.

And then, shifting gears, she attacks health care costs at the end of life. Does she want assisted suicide as a cost saving?  You know she does, but doesn’t say it. Does she want futile care legally imposed?  That would appear to be true, but she doesn’t say it. She just tells readers to call Congress and urge reform to stop the financial bleeding. But she doesn’t really say what policy she would like to see enacted.

But the conclusion to her piece is just window dressing.  Her purpose was to alienate people from their doctors and panic them into supporting assisted suicide, which ironically, would be provided by the same physician “sadists” she castigates. What a shameless piece of propaganda.

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