There’s been plenty of speculative commentary about Democrats’ health-care proposals and the “death panels” that Sarah Palin has warned of. But Britain’s National Health Service, that supposed exemplar of government-run health care, is implementing a system that is more disturbing than even what Palin imagined.
Rupert Darwall, writing in The Wall Street Journal, describes the plan which is known as the Liverpool Care Pathway — a suitably Orwellian name given that it’s actually a pathway to non-care. Under the Liverpool program, British doctors stop giving fluids and food to certain patients considered to be near death. Instead, the patients are put on a steady drip of drugs to render them unconscious until they die. This is known as “terminal sedation.”
Now get this: In 2007-08, before the Liverpool program’s national roll-out, terminal sedation already accounted for 16.5 percent of deaths in Britain. That’s one in six. In the U.S., that would have made it the third-leading cause of death in 2006, behind only heart diseases and cancer, according to these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this month, a group of doctors described the Liverpool program as “a tick-box approach” that results in “forecasting death…an inexact science.” They wrote:
As a result, a nationwide wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients. Syringe drivers are being used to give continuous terminal sedation, without regard to the fact that the diagnosis could be wrong.
As they also noted, while some of these patients will surely die naturally in short order, it is also possible for other “‘dying’ patients [to] get better.”
Here’s where this is relevant to the American health-care debate. Darwall attributes the Liverpool program and its ilk to the “real justification for socialized medicine,” namely that:
Because health-care resources are assumed to be fixed, those resources should be prioritized for those who can benefit most from medical treatment. Thus the NHS acts as Britain’s national triage service, deciding who is most likely to respond best to treatment and allocating health care accordingly.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the NHS is institutionally ageist. The elderly have fewer years left to them; why then should they get health-care resources that would benefit a younger person more?
Democrats owe Americans an explanation of exactly how they would prevent this kind of thing from happening under their plan. “Trust us” doesn’t cut it.