Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hard Health Care Decisions Needed

The following essay describes a couple of economic destroyers of the viability of our public health care system, and a solution - sure to be controversial and perhaps unacceptable for humanists. But hard decisions need to be made.

Our sacred cow of a health care system is leaking milk. Badly.

We all know that, and blame greedy doctors and nurses, crafty pharma companies, shifty administrators, unionized cleaners, and cowardly governments.

“But folks”, as Pogo said, “the enemy is us.”

The “Greatest Generation”, those parents of Baby Boomers, and the early stage boomers themselves are fully and wholly responsible for our health care crisis. Both in their age (which is their fault only by being born when they were) and their attitude (which humanistically believes that life is sacred.) Their descendants are also at fault.

A fact is that 90% of a person’s cause of health care expenditure occurs in their last two weeks of life.

Yes – that’s the figure. Hauling Pop off to hospital, keeping him in critical and then intensive care, the prescription of a pharmacy full of medicines, hauling in crash carts, settling him in a semi-private room and installing and removing catheters and respirators costs a bundle.

And reckless drivers, fit as fiddles, after a momentary lapse and a collision with a guardrail, all of a sudden need emergency surgery, and all of the after affects and treatments. Many die anyway.

Tens of thousands of dollars spent to extend a single life by a day, a week or a few months.

An interesting alternative statistic is that human beings that have been surveyed admit that the older they have gotten, the happier they have been; it is proven that people are not afraid to move along to their next existence. They even look forward to it: a reward for a life well lived.

I doubt that many, if any, of these deathly ill folks, in the event that they can think clearly, want the rest of their moments or days having their loved ones sit around the clock by their bedside praying.

So, why do we extend human pain of sick or injured people and the grief period of their loved ones?

Our society, in the last thirty years, has cast away the eternal spiritual philosophy in favour of the temporal humanist point of view. Most people in the western world, especially in the elite classes, eschew any real belief in a magnificent afterlife. So they, and their heirs, want them to hang on to the only form of existence in which they have faith. Hearts need to continue pumping so that we delay having to admit that we are now more alone.

And this costs society hugely.

It means that a sick little girl or boy can’t receive the optimum treatment to allow them to progress to adulthood. It means that funds are not available to offer better healthy lifestyle options, and that real progress can’t be made in helping people with addictions who might be turned around into productive citizens. That people with psychoses can’t be adequately housed and treated.

Our society needs to accept that a life well lived deserves a reward, and that reward is not to leave one's family with the last memories of Pop being of tubes leading from orifices, of scurrying hospital staff, and medicinal smells.

If pursuing options are necessary to retain any semblance of a public health care system, then surely one that needs exploring is to stop throwing good money after bad by extending lives for no other reason than to prove our humanistic belief in the sanctity of life. Life preserving treatments for those with little chance for long term health should be delisted, and if desired by heirs, then payable by them. People will say this is not compassionate, but I see nothing compassionate in extending the pain felt by those on the edge of death and the grief of those who have loved them.

From Lemon Favorites - Feb 20, 2006

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