Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lying about Dying

One of the noblest Christian callings I know is that of the hospice chaplain. Where most of us recoil from the suffering and loss that human beings feel as they are either dying or losing a loved one, hospice chaplains get right in there. It's not an easy thing, but helping people come to terms with their mortality and make the inescapable process of dying something not to be feared is a serious blessing.

The pastors I know who've taken on this task have found it both exhausting and rewarding. Though they were surrounded by death, they found that serving the dying was ultimately something that reinforced both their faith and the faith of others.

Like pastors, one of the core responsibilities of medical professionals is helping alleviate the suffering that comes when our mortal forms enter their endgame. Where pastors provide the comfort to the person who is preparing to pass on, doctors provide advice on care for the body, and give the needed nutritional and pharmacological inputs to insure that those last days and hours are not spent in pain.

This, more than anything else, is why the hysteria being manufactured around end-of-life provisions in the proposed health care reform plan is utterly reprehensible. American conservatism does have some good points to make about the sanctity and integrity of human life, and can provide a needed corrective to the consumerist tendency to view human beings as commodities or through the lenses of cost-benefit-analysis.

American shout radio and the right-wing blogosphere, however, are now declaring that those services and advice about how to take advantage of those services amounts to "euthanasia." That the proposed health care plan requires doctors to provide that advice is not "radical." It's necessary. It's a charge so divorced from the reality of end-of-life issues that it's functionally insane, but that doesn't matter. Radical-right groups like the Liberty Counsel couldn't care less about what is provably true. Their purpose is to accuse and accuse until they find something, anything, that sticks. It doesn't have to be real. It just has to stir doubt and further their ideological agenda.

Seeking fertile ground for that doubt, they feed into a natural fear that our seniors feel. Ours is a society that radically isolates and marginalizes the elderly, shattering the bonds of connection and community that valued and supported grandparents and great-grandparents. Whispering what is little more than a lie into that community plays off of that isolation. It may ultimately help derail this effort to fix our broken health "system." Deception is often effective at attaining short-term goals.

But ultimately, it represents a failure. It's a failure of our system, sure. But it is, more deeply, a sign of how American conservatism has failed. When a fundamental truth about human mortality is trampled under falsehoods uttered in service of a dogmatic ideology, I find it ironic that the folks who utter those falsehoods claim to be people of faith.