Monday, November 23, 2009

Death & Taxes...OK, Just Death Then.

So I’m watching CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, and right off the bat, the very first story catches my attention; “The Cost of Dying.”
The piece was about how the average American is willing to incur tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical fees and costs in the hope that medical science can (vainly) stem the one immutable universal fact of existence—eventual death—despite being irreparably ill in many of the cases. On last night’s broadcast, the producers focused on the cases of two older individuals who were suffering from different but mutually advanced medical conditions that required extensive hospitalization. That in turn, consisted of constant and virtual round-the-clock attention, which was apparent by the array of monitors, ventilators, and a host of other medical machinery the individuals were connected to. The conclusion is that, in addition to the high financial costs, many Americans are willing to pay for a few precious weeks or months of life by trading quality of life for a marginal existence. The subject got me to thinking about the issue of end-of-life care in America from different perspectives.

First, as someone who is a stern advocate for affordable universal health care, I realized that every American has not only a stake in such an endeavor, but a responsibility as well. Our demand for good health—despite our unhealthy and overindulgent lifestyles—contributes to the high cost of health care, which in turn contributes to the prohibitive costs of health insurance for those who simply cannot afford it. For some insane reason, we tend to ignore the fact that what we eat, our vices, and the stressors we allow to creep into our lives is how we ultimately end up like the individuals showcased on last night’s 60 Minutes piece…straining for a few more moments of life in spite of the cancers, cardiovascular, and other lifestyle-related diseases we inflict on ourselves. It’s somewhat analogous to another aspect of our paradoxical obsession with maintaining our health in the face of counter-productive behavior; we are too quick to go to the hospital for every little sniffle, sneeze, and paper-cut, over-medicating ourselves despite knowing that what will be will be. In order to make insurance affordable, we have to put an end to unnecessary procedures, medicines, and paranoid-inspired office/hospital visits; that includes wasting time with questionable practices such as putting frail 90-year-olds on transplant lists, which leads to a second observation.
We Americans need to change our perspectives on the end of life. As I watched last night’s piece, I became somewhat annoyed at the fact that the individuals who were fighting to vainly prolong their lives knew that they had only a couple months left under the best of circumstances, and that all of the medical personnel, monetary, and other resources were essentially being wasted. We need to understand that death is a natural progression of the natural order; we all die, it’s just that simple. Obviously I’m not saying that we should just walk freely into the night simply because it’s out ultimate destiny.


  1. Well stated.

    I wish everyone had an Advance Directive in place, but at this time, Medicare does not cover the office visit with medical staff to have this conversation and sign the appropriate documents.

    It may sound morbid, but stories like this make me proud to be from Oregon where Physician Assisted Suicide is legal.

  2. Its not "morbid" at all. I have always been a proud supporter of hospice. I only wish that we could all take our ends into our hands with the hypocritical conservatives always trying to tell us what we should do. Great job Beyond The Spectrum!