My Wife's Last Days -- And the Coming ObamaCare Death Panel

We have been so absorbed by the cavalcade of government incompetence and individual hurt produced by the rollout of ObamaCare that it is easy to forget the tragedy-in-waiting should this federal healthcare takeover stay in place: the death panel, also known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). This is the group of political appointees designed to allow the federal government to use a combination of medical and social criteria to determine the healthcare an individual receives.

Or, to put it as bluntly as Sarah Palin did, to determine who lives and who dies. Why am I thinking about that now? Because my wife and soul-mate of 33 years, Sharon Harrah Schwartz, died at the age of 62 in January. Her passing put an end to a slow-motion death from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She would have occupied the bottom portion of an IPAB treatment list.

Her suffering and passing was and remains wrenching for her family and friends. It was especially difficult over the last year as her illness accelerated, destroying her muscles and, consequently, her ability to speak, to eat, and ultimately to breathe. A variety of drugs and equipment kept her reasonably comfortable, while medical technology helped clear the fluids collecting in her lungs. She enjoyed, as much as possible, the last months with her family. An advanced directive, worked out in concert with ALS healthcare professionals, proscribed the treatment limits. For almost two years, her healthcare relied on a myriad of individual decisions based on relationships with both the ones she loved and with healthcare providers. The most significant one: she and I -- lovers and best friends for more than three decades -- had decided together that, barring a miracle and/or last-minute medical research breakthrough, we would allow the disease to take its course, keep her as comfortable as possible, and let God do the rest.

This illustrates something that President Obama and his party, in its zeal to use healthcare as a driving force in transforming American society, accrue power, and expand centralized government, have ignored: that the foundation of what has become the uniquely American and consequently world-class healthcare system is individual decision-making and values, resting upon a multitude of relationships that work best when left to those with a stake in it -- healthcare professionals, patients and their families. The government has a role, yes; but its role should be limited, allowing the marketplace of providers and patients to work.

At its most basic level, healthcare is individual and personal, depending upon relationships and particular values. Our faith, our love for each other and belief in the sacred responsibility of marriage underlaysleepless nights, caring for her when she could no longer care for herself, servicing the machines that alleviated some of the symptoms, the decisions that allowed just a few more months to live and love with her family and friends.

Her… our struggles with this terminal disease -- she referred to it as the “beast” in her body -- illustrate the government-sponsored agony awaiting so many families just over the horizon. Love informed our decisions in consultation with those providing treatment. I valued her life as sacred and God-given, acknowledging the debt I owed to someone who had joyfully served as wife, mother, and friend.

But looming on the horizon is a whole other set of criteria. ObamaCare has established an agenda-driven political board that will shift the loci of healthcare decisions from individual and relationship to the application of social justice concepts. Even a cursory reading (something that few, if any, of the Democrats foisting this law upon us took the time to do) of the pages and footnotes of this intrusion and the writings of its designers -- many so-called medical policy experts from academia -- makes it clear that progressive social engineering by government-appointed experts will largely determine medical treatment.

Peruse the publications and reports of the thinking of the architects of ObamaCare. Their various scoring systems, their social priorities would have put my wife at the bottom of the list for treatment. Obamacare architects perceive healthcare, as they do income, as a zero-sum game -- every dollar spent on her treatment is a dollar taken away from someone else. Never mind that this notion, like so much of ObamaCare, is a deliberate lie with no foundation in fact; healthcare, like wealth, in the United States has expanded  as new medical technologies, techniques and research have brought ever more accessible and better care.

But centralized control needs to declare medical resources finite, which in turn demands rationing, and rationing needs, of course, a government board to decide who gets treatment and when, who gets to live… and die. My wife, under a fully implemented ObamaCare, would have been among the last in line for treatment. She was a retiree (too old!) with a terminal disease (too expensive with a limited future!), a woman who had chosen to spend most of her adult life raising children (that’s not really societally valued employment, the architects might sniff) and who lived simply and lovingly, taking pride in her family and her role as a homemaker (what --no greater ambitions?)

Sharon was loved by her family, her friends and, above all, by God. We devoted a considerable portion of our energy and resources to making sure she felt loved during her last year. We could do no less, as love is a basic tenet of our faith, a Christianity that says her worth depends solely on her standing as a creation of God -- not a federal bureaucracy.  Such was the sanctity of Sharon’s life, a human life. That is the opposite of Obamacare which, if fully implemented, would likely have robbed us of much of her past year. To a centralized and progressive federal bureaucracy, Sharon’s worth was the totality of the probabilities of her contribution to the good of a theoretical community, as defined by Washington politicians and technocrats.

But for us, it was much simpler: She was God’s gift, to whom we owed our love and resources and energy until she passed from life in this world.

It is time to repeal Obamacare.

Dr. Stuart Schwartz is on the faculty of Liberty University and has been a frequent contributor to American Thinker. His wife, Sharon, passed away on January 7 at their residence in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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