Two Cheers for Danforth on Health Care and Sudan

By Elizabeth Palmberg 9-01-2009

Two great ideas from former Sen. John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and Republican from Missouri who served in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades, are under fire. We should make sure that neither goes down in flames.

The first idea: offering patients a meaningful opportunity to make decisions about their end-of-life medical care. Back in the early 1990s, Danforth sponsored the Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring health care institutions to tell patients they can control their end-of-life care. Many thought it would be a good idea for doctors, as opposed to general institutional staff, to be part of such conversations, so this idea was carried forward when Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) and others recently sponsored a bill that would allow Medicare to reimburse doctors for this, if patients decide to have the conversation at all. As you may have noticed, this bipartisan idea is now the subject of much brouhaha, including flat-out lies, in the health-care debate.

The second idea: real peacemaking in Sudan. During the second Bush administration, Danforth, who was U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, successfully brought together an international diplomatic coalition to push the Sudanese regime in Khartoum into negotiating a peace in the long-running civil war in south Sudan. (Setting the foundation for this peace was the people-to-people peace process sponsored by the New Sudan Council of Churches and others, which helped unify the different people groups in southern Sudan so that Khartoum could no longer engage in its divide-and-conquer strategy). The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which Danforth helped bring about, could, if its requirement of all-Sudan elections in 2010 are fully implemented, also help bring peace to the separate conflict in Darfur. As Danforth pointed out in January, the CPA is now in danger of collapsing if continued international pressure is not brought.

But, as activist groups said last week,

Although the President has said, "Sudan is a priority for this administration, particularly at a time when it cries out for peace and for justice" (March 19, 2009), we have yet to see the type of strong action that will build lasting peace in Sudan.

Last week, activists joined together to launch a campaign, Sudan Now, to urge the Obama administration to live up to its words on Sudan.

Rev. Danforth is from the Show-Me state; it's up to all of us to show the world that these two important ideas will not be allowed to fall by the wayside.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners.

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