The Common Good

More Health Scare Tactics: Debunking the 'Death Book'

These days wisdom seems in short supply in the health-care debate. To wit: the Aug. 18 Wall Street Journal article by Jim Towey, where he criticizes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) booklet, "Your Life, Your Choices," which he dubbed "The Death Book for Veterans." Towey's allegations are amply refuted in the Huffington Post's response, "How Conservatives Got the Facts Wrong on Their Latest Obsession," so I won't go into the details here. I would just like to make a personal observation about the VA.

A close family member has been a VA patient off and on for more than a decade. He will be 74 next month and has been in very poor health for years. Thanks to the VA, he has had open-heart surgery, countless tests, and repeated hospitalizations for syncope, ischemia, esophageal disorders, psychiatric episodes ... I don't know the half of it. He also has dementia. His monthly expense on medications is astronomical. If it weren't for the VA, he would have died years ago.

Now I'm going to be painfully honest here: I have sometimes wondered if the VA is spending too much on him. He often refuses to follow his doctor's orders. He is unhappy because he can no longer drive, operate machinery, or work on the many projects he began before his medical problems began. He does not seem to want to live. But live he does, and at enormous public expense.

I am not an ethicist, and I find end-of-life issues confusing. I do not believe that assisted suicide is ever justified (though in some cases, one can sympathize), but face it: we are all going to die. To what lengths should we go to preserve life? When is it appropriate to withhold further intervention and make the patient comfortable? When, on the other hand, should all available medical tools be employed?

I don't know what the VA should be doing for my relative, but I do know what they are doing. They are doing everything in their power to keep him alive, and never once have they suggested letting him die. If they are erring, it is on the side of life.

LaVoMy Photonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)