When America was caught in the grip of the Terri Schiavo fiasco, I remember talking with many people who said that if their own life came upon such circumstances, they wouldn’t want to be kept alive artificially. I agree with this sentiment, although I must admit that I’ve never put anything in writing stating as much. I’ve been intrigued by all of the talk about end of life directives lately. From the fear-mongering to the well-researched, there’s a lot of information out there regarding provisions in the health care reform bills that would address paying for advance directives.
Now it seems likely that the whole end of life issue will likely not make it into whatever form health care reform eventually takes, because it’s become such a thorny issue. I agree with Ezra Kline here that this is unfortunate. As a society, we don’t like to talk about death or end of life issues in general, because it tends to be a bit of a downer. But these are important conversations that need to take place between doctors and patients, and among family members. And if health insurance will reimburse doctors to have these discussions with patients, that seems like a good thing to me. It does seem that the language in the bill was poorly written and very difficult to understand (although that tends to be par for the course when it comes to legislation in general, and health care reform legislation in particular), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important issue.
Obviously there are groups with their own agendas who are active in this debate. From religious organizations that believe life should be sustained in all circumstances, to groups that actively encourage euthenasia, there are plenty of people who want to see their own ideas advanced. But there are also lots of ordinary people who might benefit from a provision that allows their doctor to be reimbursed for a visit that involves a discussion about what the person wants and doesn’t want with regards to care in the event of a terminal illness. It’s unfortunate that this has become such a point of contention in the health care reform debate. Although I do think that it could have been an important benefit for some peope, I also think it has taken the focus off of some of the much more important aspects of health care reform. And that is the unfortunate part.