Lee Siegel--the noted bioethicist, policy analyst, and expert on medicine--weighs in on the Palin-death panel controversy in a column for the Daily Beast.
Sorry, what's that? Siegel has what looks like zero expertise in these matters? Maybe that explains what he wrote.
Siegel thinks that the right-wing critics are right, that Obama's proposal to study the effectiveness of treatments and steer Medicare reimbursement towards those treatments that actually work is a "Big Brother nightmare of oppressive government."
Leave aside the argument for ending life when its prospects for continuing seem too painful or too hopeless. Leave it aside because this is one case where Kant’s beautiful categorical imperative--act as though your particular deeds should be a universal law--will never apply. We know that theft and murder are wrong because if they were universally committed, the world would explode in chaos. But the decision to end your life before nature wrenches it away is as rational and humane as the decision to prolong your life by whatever means necessary. Life is too specifically precious to turn its final phase into any type of universal practice, whether it’s enforced by custom or by law.
As for the argument that fruitless tests and “senseless” procedures are bankrupting the health-care system, that is an insult to the intelligence. No one knows which tests and procedures will be effective beforehand. No amount of “study” and research is going to address the particular case and the particular condition, let alone the particular, desperate, irrational will to live—which, in animal terms, is pragmatic and rational.
No one knows which test and procedures will be effective beforehand? Really, Lee? Nobody?
This will come as a great shock to physicians, who spend quite a few years in medical school--and then quite a few years more learning how to practice medicine as interns and residents--precisely so they can order the tests and procedures most likely to work. It will also come as a great shock to the insurance corporations of America, who routinely review those decisions, issuing approvals and denials based on their own criteria of what's right or wrong.
Of course, doctors don't always have the best information--and profit-seeking insurers don't always have the patients' best interests at heart. That's why reform would develop better information, get it out to practitioners, and set payment policy for Medicare in the most transparent way possible--by doing it all out in the open, through a democratically accountable commission of experts bound by law to do what's in the patient's best interests.
Now, if Siegel wants to have an intelligent, sane conversation about how to make these decisions in a better way--say, by changing the composition of the board, or coming up with some new way altogether--that's fine.
Heck, I'd even take an intelligent (if, in my view, wrong-headed) libertarian argument for why insurers are more trustworthy about these decisions than a government commission would be.
But I suspect Siegel can't make any of these arguments, because it would require something he seems to lack: a clue.
Note: No link, because I can't bear the thought of giving the article more traffic. Google it if you must.