Truth, death and life
A year of propaganda and disturbing questions closes
Notes on the news:
Did you think that last year's reform debate generated more heat than light? That truth took a near-fatal beating? So did the editors and reporters of PolitiFact, the fact-checking website of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. They concluded that the debate engendered the 2010 “lie of the year.” That was the assertion that the reform bill enacted in March amounted to a “government takeover of healthcare.”
PolitiFact noted that the term was coined by a Republican consultant famous for catchy—if not accurate—phraseology. Anything remotely resembling a government plan, such as the “public option,” was dropped long before final passage. But that didn't stop GOP opponents from using their takeover talking point as they proceeded to year's end. “And few in the press challenged the frequent assertion that under (President Barack) Obama, the government was going to take over the healthcare industry,” PolitiFact said.
As we have noted on this page, the assertion is not only false, it's ironic. The reform plan is conservative and Republican at its core. Health exchanges and individual mandates to buy insurance were touted by conservative thinkers—who were seeking to avoid government-run care—going back to the 1980s. The Columbia Journalism Review has noted the conservative roots of the reform law, as has National Public Radio recently.
Incidentally, PolitiFact inaugurated the “lie of the year” designation in 2009 by bestowing the dishonor on the supposed “death panels” in the reform bill. That notion was propagated by Sarah Palin from a fantasy spun by healthcare “expert” Betsy McCaughey, who earlier earned a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.
Speaking of “death panels,” the Obama administration is using regulatory power to have Medicare pay doctors to advise patients on end-of-life care. This is voluntary counseling as part of the annual physical examination authorized under the reform law.
The bipartisan end-of-life counseling provision was stripped from the legislation after the “death panel” hysteria erupted. Those of us who have been caregivers for aging loved ones know the value of such counseling. Politicos who would deny such common-sense services to their fellow citizens are cynical and callous. But what else is new?
Finally, executives of Catholic hospitals must be pondering the implications of Bishop Thomas Olmsted's decree that St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix can no longer call itself a Roman Catholic facility. The bishop complained about several alleged reproductive-related infractions, most prominently the hospital's decision to perform an abortion to save the life of a woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Doctors concluded the woman's risk of death was near 100% if she continued with the 11-week pregnancy. They chose to save the life they could. Even though an ethics committee judged the abortion to be consistent with church teachings, the bishop declared a nun on the panel excommunicated.
The affair raises a multitude of questions. Here are only a few: What if the hospital had let the woman die? It could have been subject then to civil and criminal prosecution. What about the ethical predicament of doctors and nurses who are sworn to save lives? They might have jeopardized their professional standing. What about the hospital's tax status or its care-giving obligations under federal law?
If bishops such as Olmsted continue to embrace such ultra-hardline stances, Catholic hospitals may be tempted to forgo the moniker. They can still pursue Jesus' directive to compassionately care for the sick. They may not be Catholic under Olmsted's definition, but they will be Christian. And that's the truth.
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