Human Exceptionalism

Obamacare: End of Life Counseling Not as Benign as Supporters Claim

Hat tip to Francis Beckwith over at First Thoughts: The Washington Post’s Charles Lane analyzes the notorious section 1233 of the House health care reform bill, the part dealing with end of life counseling. From the story:

Section 1233, however, addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones. Supporters protest that they’re just trying to facilitate choice — even if patients opt for expensive life-prolonging care. I think they protest too much: If it’s all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what’s it doing in a measure to “bend the curve” on health-care costs?

Though not mandatory, as some on the right have claimed, the consultations envisioned in Section 1233 aren’t quite “purely voluntary,” as Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) asserts. To me, “purely voluntary” means “not unless the patient requests one.” Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive — money — to do so. Indeed, that’s an incentive to insist.

Patients may refuse without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority. Once they’re in the meeting, the bill does permit “formulation” of a plug-pulling order right then and there. So when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) denies that Section 1233 would “place senior citizens in situations where they feel pressured to sign end-of-life directives that they would not otherwise sign,” I don’t think he’s being realistic.

What’s more, Section 1233 dictates, at some length, the content of the consultation. The doctor “shall” discuss “advanced care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to”; “an explanation of . . . living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses” (even though these are legal, not medical, instruments); and “a list of national and State-specific resources to assist consumers and their families.” The doctor “shall” explain that Medicare pays for hospice care (hint, hint).

Which is why a provision needs to be put in, as I have suggested, requiring the “counseling” to not be directed at a particular result.  I also still believe that it should be spelled out clearly that the counseling is voluntary, both for the treating professional and the patient.