Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, along with many other Republicans and conservatives, have seized on the idea of “death panels” as a target against which to aim their opposition to the health care legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama and members of his party in the Congress. While the health care bills being currently considered in both the House and the Senate do not contain “death panels” per se, the notion that the government would directly or indirectly engage in “end of life counseling” or the idea that insurance reimbursements might be even indirectly tied by federal law to such considerations — both of which are on the table — is rightfully distasteful to most Americans.
This is not a hypothetical debate. There in fact is a real-life model to which those interested in federal health care legislation can turn, if they honestly want to gain an understanding of how bureaucracies can distort medical care for terminally or possibly terminally ill patients. The “death committee” paradigm comes to us from the United Kingdom, which has practiced government-run health care for a number of years. According to a recent article written by the medical correspondent for the respected Telegraph, and based on an extensive study of patients in the National Health System (NHS), patients with actual or suspected terminal illnesses were being pushed into a “self-fulfilling prophecy” resulting in a hastened death. This “scheme” as the Telegraph describes it, involves a major component of the NHS — the Liverpool Care Pathway (”LCP”).
Any elderly or terminally patient or family member even considering supporting a government-run health care system, should first study the history of the LCP. One of the protocols administered by the Liverpool project, for example, involves placing patients determined to be “terminal” under continuous deep sedation. This process, which results in a death rate in England that is twice that in Belgium or the Netherlands, disguises the actual condition of the patients and makes it virtually impossible for hospital personnel, including doctors, to determine whether the patient is making progress toward improvement. In fact, one doctor said that taking patients off the “pathway” led to a number of them improving and living for a “significat” amount of time thereafter.
Of course, taking patients off the heavy, continuous “terminal” sedation does not fit the government’s desire to transfer resources from hospice setting to other care. It’s so much easier for bureaucrats and doctors operating at the direction of those government bureaucrats, to simply sedate elderly or seriously ill patients and leave them to die, than it would be to actually monitor and care for them in an effort to prevent or at least delay death.