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Disputes Buchanans death panel column
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Pat Buchanan’s commentary, “Sarah and the death panels,” is filled with exaggerated claims, inaccuracies and illogical assumptions. Referring to Sarah Palin’s “death panel” quote, Buchanan acknowledges, “she has been fairly criticized for hyperbole about the end-of-life counselors in the House bill,” yet applauds her because she “drew such attention to the provision that Democrats chose to dump it...” It’s ironic that Buchanan recognizes the hyperbole in Palin’s words when his own commentary simply expands upon her tactics, playing on imaginary fears and misinterpretations of that health care provision. Buchanan sets up straw arguments that he can easily knock down to make his points. I’d like to offer a rebuttal.

First and foremost, let’s dispense with the whole “death panel” characterization. The whole purpose of end-of-life counseling was not as some have suggested, a nefarious government plot to snuff out our older citizens in order to save money. Its actual intention was to empower people — to give them the opportunity to decide their own fate, while they are still fully capable of making their own rational decisions, as to what means and measures they want to sustain or end their lives. Choices could range from “Do Not Resuscitate” orders to a “Do everything medically possible in your power to keep me alive” directive. “Bureaucrats” would not be the ones making life or death decisions, they would be following the instructions of the patients.

People who are truly concerned about end-of-life counseling could insist on a provision allowing family members or designees to be included in the discussions to prevent anyone from being pressured or influenced to choose a particular course of action or procedure.

Buchanan theorizes that a government option health care plan “must inevitably deny care to some terminally ill and elderly, which will shorten their lives.” He raises the specter of “a medical system of rationed care” as if it was some startling new menace. Seriously? We already have rationed care with private insurance companies who have the right to decide which medical procedures, services and operations they will cover and which they will exclude or deny. Experimental treatments and procedures, due to the uncertain outcome and risk involved, are often not covered by private insurance plans. When these possibly life-saving treatments are denied, why are private insurance bureaucrats not seen as “death panels?” I can not see the logic in the idea that the government would be any more likely to deny care to the terminally ill or the elderly in order to save money, than private insurance groups which operate (no pun intended) strictly on a for-profit basis.

Buchanan plays on peoples’ anger and resentment toward illegal immigrants. I definitely agree that immigration reform is surely needed, but Buchanan’s assertions distort and defy logic. He states that Obama’s plan to put “12 million to 20 million illegal aliens on a path to citizenship” will result in taxpayers forced to foot the bill for their health care, too. But isn’t that supposedly happening right now? Don’t taxpayers already pick up the tab for uninsured emergency room visits? And if illegal immigrants did become legal citizens, wouldn’t they also become contributing taxpayers?

Buchanan’s argument only makes sense if none of the formerly illegal immigrants ever get jobs. According to Census Bureau figures, by 2050 the United States population will reach 435 million. Buchanan advances the far-fetched notion that “most of these folks will be immigrants, their children, and grandchildren” so “the cost of their health care would also have to be largely borne by middle-class and wealthy taxpayers.” This is wrong on so many levels. Buchanan must have an extremely low opinion of both political parties to take such a dim view that immigration reform will be ignored for the next 41 years. Also, children and grandchildren of illegal immigrants, if they are born in the United States, are legal residents. These offspring can legitimately enter schools, strive for a good education, work hard at meaningful jobs and, yes, actually pay taxes that are needed to support our government system.

I’m neither a fan of scare tactics nor blatant attempts to manipulate emotions and Buchanan is guilty of both. His twisted example of the Palins’ son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome, as a future 42-year-old orphan who has been institutionalized for years and, as a “drain” on the health care system,” is in danger of having his life terminated, is both insulting and unrealistic. Does Buchanan actually know anyone with Down Syndrome? Many lead fulfilling and productive lives and don’t need to be in an institution. In Buchanan’s supposed scenario, what happened to Trig’s brother and sisters? Were they unwilling to provide a home for their sibling? The Palins seem like a supportive, close-knit family. Realistically, I don’t see his siblings abandoning Trig to a cruel “government” fate. Using Trig is a play unworthy of both Sarah Palin and Pat Buchanan.

Finally, Buchanan’s reference to Alzheimer’s victims ironically undercuts his points, instead illustrating the actual need for well planned out end-of-life counseling and a discussion of options. It is difficult and uncomfortable to face, but if people make medical decisions for themselves, before they are mentally or physically incapacitated, they can lift that burden from their family’s shoulders. They can ensure that their medical wishes are followed by personnel, by having them in writing. It is our responsibility to make our health choices known. Then the fake “boogeyman” of a death panel can hold no real power.
Karen Pearsall
August 24, 2009