Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The last year of life can be deadly

The Wall Street Journal is busy today campaigning against Barack Obama's healthcare reform. Rupert Darwall ("a London-based strategist ... currently writing a book on the history of global warming") argues that the NHS is essentially a scheme to divert the national healthcare budget away from old people. Among the allegations --

a group of senior doctors and health-care experts wrote to a national newspaper expressing their concern about the Liverpool Care Pathway, a palliative program being rolled out across the NHS involving the withdrawal of fluids and nourishment for patients thought to be dying. Noting that in 2007-08, 16.5% of deaths in the U.K. came after "terminal sedation," their letter concluded with the chilling observation that experienced doctors know that sometimes "when all but essential drugs are stopped, 'dying' patients get better" if they are allowed to.

The letter was to The Telegraph. The problem is that he's devoting one paragraph to the issue of "end-of-life" care, the critical issue being the judgment of doctors (not politicians) about whether a patient is so close to death that the medical regimen should be changed accordingly (e.g. by not giving food that the body can't handle). But it seems that the Republicans have decided that the death panel talking point works for them.

On then to an editorial which says Barack Obama is mixed up about the virtues of the Dutch healthcare model because he just praised it even though it doesn't have a public health insurer like he has called for in the US. What the Dutch system does have is compulsory insurance (everyone must buy), no screening (everyone gets the same price), tight regulation, free insurance for children, and a specific payroll tax to cover the excess costs of insurance companies with a lot of bad risk patients. It's good to know that the Journal would be OK with those things.

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