Death Panels and Public Debate

Robert Pear reports for the New York Times that, once again, payments to physicians for having discussions with their patients about end-of-life care is being removed from provisions of the new health care law. Never mind that people will die—not even Washington’s debates can alter that, anymore, apparently, than they can do away with taxes. Never mind that hospice workers and doctors praised the step toward making these services available. The services will not be funded under provisions of the new health care law.

Much of the dynamic seems to result from deliberate political distortion. Harangues about Obama’s death panels are crafted to be provocative and to distort the truth. There’s nothing in the legislation about sanctioning anything like a death panel, and it is unfortunate that claims of this sort can shape the national debate. This is not to engage in special pleading of any kind for the Democratic agenda. Both political parties have discovered that an oft-told untruth is as powerful as the mere truth. A frequently told half-truth is soon believed politically as the whole truth.

Beneath the surface of these political debates, there are important differences in perspective about the meaning of life and the role of government. One side sees government as a malign entity with a very limited role, and the other side holds that government can serve as a collective way of addressing common problems and furthering the common good. Deep religious and philosophical sources in our political traditions embolden the first view—those that press for limited government. Equally deep resources further the progressive agenda, for we as a people have not been of one mind on this topic during the course of our nation’s history. Our petty debates and willingness to caricature our opponents means that we have no time left in which to discuss our deeper traditions and ideas.

Read full post here.


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