In a hugely disappointing move, the Obama administration has abruptly backed away from supporting a frank and open discussion about end-of-life planning between doctors and their elderly patients.
Only three days after implementing a new regulation that provided Medicare coverage for doctors to talk to their patients about what kind of care they wanted at the end of their lives, the White House announced on Wednesday that they were reversing it.
Why the short order flip-flop? Why disappoint the thousands of hospice workers, geriatricians, doctors, caregivers and seniors who had been working towards and supporting this kind of coverage, some of them for years?
Simple: Obama buckled to the bullies. As soon as the loud and vociferous opponents of end-of-life choice began their usual scare mongering and name-calling, he stood down. Instead of sticking to his principles, he chose the politically expedient response and caved…. again.
Yep, because these are the exact same folks who hijacked the healthcare reform debate in 2009 by telling us that Obamacare would result in “death panels” and that Big Government would decide whether or not your granny got to live or die. The same rabid conservatives and “Got you in our crosshairs” Palin supporters who managed to wrest our president’s lunch money away from him two years ago — only this time they just had to yell a little and he handed it right over.
The news is a devastating blow to anyone whose work involves helping people make decisions about end-of-life care. And it will mean millions of the sick and elderly will enter the final chapter of their lives woefully unprepared.
Only 20 or 30 percent of patients at the most have an advance directive in place in this country. The new regulation would have increased that number substantially. It would also have empowered dying patients to think about and choose the kind of death they wanted in advance. Instead, most of us will find ourselves at the mercy of a healthcare system that knows how to keep throwing drugs and procedures at us — insisting on unnecessary “heroic measures” right up to our final painful breath — but isn’t very good at helping us find comfort and peace at the end.
The implications of this cowardly backing down for our healthcare system and our aging population are devastating. It also reveals a most disappointing truth: our political system is being taken over by bullies and the leaders we elected with such high hopes to stand up to them are letting them do it.