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Posted at 11:39 AM ET, 11/24/2009

My health-care story: A 'death panel' of two

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Cheryl Jackson Logan
Columbia

At some point in the life of nearly every responsible adult who has a sick, elderly parent, there may come the opportunity to sit on a death panel.

This month, while having a discussion with my significant other about whether to establish a do-not-resuscitate order for his father, who is in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease, we looked at each other and said, “Did we just conduct a death panel?” The decision my partner came to is a private matter, so I will not share it, but I can share the decision my family reached as my mother approached the end of her four-year battle with multiple myeloma.

This particularly insidious cancer has no cure and causes extreme bouts of pain in almost all patients. When it came time to consider hospice care and ending curative treatment, the decision was simple. Her quality of life and ending her suffering were our family’s chief concerns. We had no regard for the larger political context or philosophical questions about “the sanctity of human life.” We just loved our mother, wife, sister and friend very much.

The doctors explained her situation. She had been part of a research study, and we had grown to know and to trust them. We had seen them go from exuberance about her progress at the beginning of her treatment to compassionate half-smiles toward the end. They didn’t have to say it; we knew it and, more important, she knew it. We dealt with this fact of life as a family. It was ultimately her decision, but she needed our confirmation to know that it was okay.

So as this health debate rages on, I implore those who might be tempted to use the concept of so-called death panels to score points to remember: The debate is not about keeping people alive, it is about living.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | November 24, 2009; 11:39 AM ET
 
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Comments

Cheryl Jackson Logan and her family have the right to be "the panel". She should remember that her family and NOT the government health program should make these difficult decisions.
I have an elderly parent, I am elderly, I understand.

Posted by: unbiased1 | November 24, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I too had to decide when to let someone die.

My wife had cancer and reached the point where she had no quality of life and was unable to express her own wishes. When the doctors asked me whether I wanted to continue treating her cancer or move her to pallative care and just control her pain, I asked if there was any way to give her back some quality of life. When they answered, "no", I told them to control her pain and let her die.

It was the right decision. To continue treatmenting her cancer would just have extended her suffering with no hope that she could ever enjoy life again.

I loved Ellen deeply, and in my case loving her meant letting her go.

Posted by: rbdavidson | November 24, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

If you aren't going to discuss the why's and wherefore's of your sig.-oth.'s choice, you're better off not writing about it in the first place. Your personal story is sufficient.

Just as the U.S. already rations health care, we already have death panels. Hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and loved ones are making those choices every day. And we sit on our own death panel each time we make a lifstyle choice that potentially impacts our well-being (like exercising) or the well-being of another (like driving drunk).

It's only recently that we've decided to get publically squirmy about it. And I don't see this squirminess is doing the public any good.

So, y'all in the media and in politics and elsewhere need to take a deep breath, relax a bit, and not let the fear of death or another's judgement cloud your ability to think for yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by: MsJS | November 25, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I wish this article had not used the phrase 'death panel.'

Ideally the consultant who coined the term for rallying the masses did so with the intent that these decisions would remain within the circle of personal acquaintances and family and not become institutionalized into the Medicare system with sets of procedures and performance measures designed to promote adherence to end-of-life care as laid out by a central authority.

These folks made decisions about their loved one out of love and concern for them, which is the way it should be for each individual in this nation.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 26, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

I have also had to make end of life decisions for family members but they are in no way related to the possibility that a utilization committee at a medical facility might receive authorization to make those decisions in place of those who can make them for themselves, or those who now have legal medical powers of attorney on behalf of others.
What if they could decide to order those "do not resuscitate" orders, remove ventilators, or cease treatments, based on statistics or facility policies, rather than individual case characteristics?
Who has the legal right to make the decision to continue or cease treatment? I do. Or the person to whom I, as an individual, give the power of attorney because I trust them to look after my best interests.
That's not the government. The government is protecting the system, not the individual.

Posted by: parkbench | November 27, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

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