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Aug. 14 2009 - 6:06 pm | 4 views | 1 recommendation | 0 comments

Death Panels? More like quality-of-life panels

Mary Mallon (left bed) in a hospital bed durin...

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I’ve been appalled at all the rumors about how health care reform would result in death panels — groups of heartless bureaucrats who would decide when we are too expensive to maintain, and shuffle us off this mortal coil forthwith (I’ve never quite figured out the derivation of that expression, but I do like it’s cadence)

I know this blog is supposed to be about business, but no, I’m not going to discuss the economics of end-of-life care.  To someone who has seen two parents die horrendous deaths, I want to talk about the human side of this.

My dad, who died of cancer in 1981, was never offered the hospice option. A vibrant, muscular man until a few months before he died, he languished in a hospital bed, losing his body mass, losing his spirit, finally losing his mind. It was an awful way to go.

Fast forward to 2005.  My mom began to fail in 2003, when she was 88. Her mind remained intact almost until the end — fortunate for me, but unfortunate for her, since she was conscious of every new bodily betrayal.  For two years her doctors did yeoman’s work, repairing the broken bones, shoring up the post-attack heart, keeping the pain at bay.  And finally, when they could do no more, they took me aside and said, do you really want her to die in this hospital bed? Of course not.  And they arranged home hospice care.

My mom had always been an impeccably groomed, elegant Viennese lady. So I took her from the hospital and drove her straight to the beauty parlor, where her long-time hairdresser gave her a wash and set, and her long-time manicurist polished the nails on the fingers and toes.  And then I took her home.

She’d always loved the sun and the next day was bright and warm.  So, after the hospice nurse came and checked her out and gave her meds and injections and other things she needed,  I put her in a wheelchair and took her to the park, and sat in the sun with her.

She never spoke, from the moment we left the hospital until the moment she died, three days later. But she truly seemed aware — and grateful that we hadn’t tried to prolong agony, but rather crammed in a little bit of joy in the truncated time she had left.

That, folks, is what end of life counseling is about.  And yes, maybe she’d have lived a few days — or even a few weeks — longer if she’d stayed in the hospital. But at what human cost?

Yes, yes, YES, end of life counseling should be part of health care reform. If it were up to me, it would be mandatory!  Of course no one should be pressured to accept hospice care — but everyone should be offered the option.  


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    About Me

    I graduated from Cornell with a degree in child psychology, enough years ago so that all you needed to break into journalism was willingness to starve. I went into business journalism because, in the 60s, the business press was the crusading press, the ones that wrote about environment, race relations, etc. Since then I have worked for Business Week, Chemical Week and, from 1984 through May 2008, BizDay at the New York Times. I remain bored by and ignorant of esoteric financial instruments; I remain fascinated and pretty knowledgeable about management, marketing, environment, all the non-financial aspects of business. But my true passions? Tennis, both playing and watching, and food, both cooking and eating.

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