Monday, August 24, 2009

Professor Pitney Argues Against Death Panels for Ted Kennedy

Professor John J. Pitney Jr. has a stirring argument against rationing health care found here. He's arguing against supposed medical ethicist and Harvard professor, James Sabin, who believes that Ted Kennedy should send a "message" and refuse his expensive treatment.
Sabin's message is that Ted Kennedy should pass up life-prolonging treatment and go gently into that good night. The ethicist would applaud if he gave a farewell speech saying "I should die more quickly!" But Americans admire the Kennedys because they fight like hell against illness and injury.

The comparison to Buffet is nonsense. If Buffet gets his way and pays more tax, he's still a billionaire. If Kennedy pulls his own plug, he's dead.

This is the ethics of redistribution applied to life and death. This is the world of Sophie's Choices and overcrowded lifeboats. It's not the world Americans want to live in.
Professor Pitney raises an interesting question. Just who is to judge the value of a life? What is an extra day really worth? An extra hour?

For most of us, that decision is a horribly difficult one to answer, but not, it would appear for those who insist that we must ration care. For them, it seems an increasingly easy choice. Rather than grow the pie of health care, others quibble about how to divide the slices.

I've criticized Charlie Sprague CMC '10 for much the same kind of thinking here.


david said...

The choice of rationing health care or not rationing care is a false choice. The truth is, we currently ration care. Right now, most medical care goes to those with good health care plans, the elderly on Medicare, veterans in the VA, and the poor and disabled in government plans. The uninsured, and the poor and disable who do not qualify for government plans, get minimal health care. This appears to be rationing, if you characterize rationing as giving care to some but denying it to others.

Our choice now is, do we continue to ration care as we are doing now, or do we adopt some other method? For example, given a finite amount of health care services available, should we continue to allocate them to the elderly, whose productive years are behind them, or do we allocate it to the young, who must have good health care in order to be productive?

For example, should twenty doctors spend all their time keeping grandma alive for a few more months, or should they spend their time making sure that one hundred poor kids with ear infections get treatment, so that their untreated conditions do not lead to loss of hearing?

This seems an obvious choice, but it is a choice nobody is willing to discuss.

Charles Johnson said...

Your point about rationing is silly, at best. Of course we ration care. We ration everything in a world of scare resources.

The real choice is how we ration it and frankly, I don't find it encouraging at all to think that we'll be moving from admittedly obtuse and unresponsive insurance companies to the one thing that is even more unresponsive: the federal government!

Most poor do qualify for most government programs. As do many disabled people. Now I happen to believe that medicare should be gradually abolished, not expanded to the middle class.

On the contrary, David, that doesn't seem an easy choice at all, assuming as it does that that's the choice a government ought to be making.

Many of us would prefer to spend our time doing both. Of course, your choice is an admittedly poor one because few in the U.S. lose their hearing.