WSJ: VA pushes vets to consider death as an alternative to treatment

posted at 11:36 am on August 20, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The ObamaCare bill may not contain “death panels,” but even Charles Lane and Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post wonder why the bill incentivizes end-of-life consultations with the elderly and ill as part of its cost-containment strategy.  Maybe Lane and Robinson should take a look at the VA, where the Obama administration and former General Eric Shinseki have reinstated a program called “Your Life, Your Choices.”  The Wall Street Journal reports that this program amounts to a high-pressure sales pitch for refusal of treatment for veterans:

“Your Life, Your Choices” presents end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions, much like a political “push poll.” For example, a worksheet on page 21 lists various scenarios and asks users to then decide whether their own life would be “not worth living.”

The circumstances listed include ones common among the elderly and disabled: living in a nursing home, being in a wheelchair and not being able to “shake the blues.” There is a section which provocatively asks, “Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘If I’m a vegetable, pull the plug’?” There also are guilt-inducing scenarios such as “I can no longer contribute to my family’s well being,” “I am a severe financial burden on my family” and that the vet’s situation “causes severe emotional burden for my family.”

When the government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living, who needs a death panel?

One can only imagine a soldier surviving the war in Iraq and returning without all of his limbs only to encounter a veteran’s health-care system that seems intent on his surrender.

I was not surprised to learn that the VA panel of experts that sought to update “Your Life, Your Choices” between 2007-2008 did not include any representatives of faith groups or disability rights advocates. And as you might guess, only one organization was listed in the new version as a resource on advance directives: the Hemlock Society (now euphemistically known as “Compassion and Choices”).

Of course, the program is entirely voluntary, right?  Well, the VA has instructed its physicians to deliver this end-of-life counseling to all of its patients.  In effect, the US government is telling every veteran it treats that they may want to die for their country — not to defend it, but to save it a few bucks.

This booklet has been in use since the Clinton administration.  When the Bush administration finally reviewed “Your Life, Your Choices,” it suspended its use within the VA system.  For some reason, the Obama administration and Shinseki have reinstated the booklet this year.  The directive reinstituting the booklet was issued last month.

Perhaps some of the “death panels” rhetoric was overblown, but this is downright disgusting.  The Bush administration was correct in suspending the use of these tactics to push vets into refusing treatment, and the government these men and women defended should be ashamed to have put that in their hands in the first place.  If Obama wants to argue that he won’t bend the cost curve downward at the expense of treatment, maybe he should start by stopping that very policy at the VA — one of the existing “public plans” that need reform much more than the overall health-care system.


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