It was Sen. Grassley himself who rammed the GOP’s most astonishing pro-death policy through the Senate in 2001. The estate-tax revision he championed reduces the estate tax to zero next year. But when the law expires at year’s end, the tax will jump back up to its previous level of 55 percent. Grassley’s exploding offer has an entirely foreseen if unintended consequence: It’s going to encourage those whose parents and grandparents are worth anything more than a million bucks to get them dead by midnight on Dec. 31, 2010. This would be a great plot for a P.D. James novel if it weren’t an actual piece of legislation.

As economists will tell you, when you don’t tax something, you get more of it. Various studies have shown that this logic applies to life and death, as well as to more modest behavioral choices. In a 2001 paper titled “Dying To Save Taxes,” Wojciech Kopczuk and Joel Slemrod examined 13 tax changes since 1917 and concluded that “for individuals dying within two weeks of a tax reform, a $10,000 potential tax savings … increases the probability of dying in the lower-tax regime by 1.6 percent.”