When the Affordable Care Act was up for a vote during President Obama’s first term, the cry from right-wing opponents was that “Obamacare” would create “death panels.” Bureaucrats would sit in meeting rooms deciding if Grandma got to live or not. Socialized medicine, which the ACA is not, would be even worse. Only capitalism cares about Grandma’s life. It wasn’t true then—as insurance execs sat in meeting rooms determining which patients would receive treatment and which would be left to die—and it’s certainly not true now as right-wing “Re-open the economy!” advocates prove.
Several of my religious friends have strongly criticized temporary workplace closings to flatten the curve during the early part of the pandemic. Two of them, both physicians, characterized the situation as “destroying the economy to save old people who would have been dead in two weeks anyway.” But that rationale, even if it were accurate, raises an important religious/political question: if we don’t care about those last two weeks of Grandma’s life now, was it OK before the pandemic, and will it be OK again afterward, for families to euthanize Grandma when it looks like she’s getting close to the end? And if it is OK, would its acceptability be based on pain and quality of life or would it be based on economic concerns?
For the religious right, sending someone a check for just sitting at home not infecting anyone is a sin far worse than senicide or euthanizing the disabled.
One can’t always tell if an 81-year-old is going to die in the next few weeks. She could live another ten or fifteen years. Valerie Harper (Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. Would it have been OK to write her off then? She was still alive in 2013, when the cancer spread to her brain and she was given three months to live. Surely, at that point, it would be OK to consider the remainder of her life meaningless. “No one’s giving up a haircut for you!”
But in 2016, she was still working on film projects. She did not die until the end of August 2019.
So at what point would it have been acceptable for Valerie to willingly choose physician-assisted death on her own behalf? At what point would it have been acceptable for her family to decide that for her? And if neither she nor her family had that right, why does the religious right feel entitled to claim it for themselves, magnanimously sacrificing the lives of people they don’t even know? After all, they can hardly limit the sacrifice to their own parents, regardless of how much they might stand to inherit. They are making this decision for everyone.
If suicide is a sin, why doesn’t the religious right put up a fuss when they hear an elderly person offer themselves as a sacrifice to the economy? Is someone else’s suicide only acceptable when it benefits you? Why do so many of the faithful pressure the old and sick to willingly give up their God-given right to live a decent life for as long as they can?
Recently, a right-wing pundit said he was willing to eat his neighbors and feed them to his children if he had to. His superpower, he boasted, was honesty. What he didn’t add was that this push to “Re-open the economy!” while unprepared means he’s also willing to throw 100,000 additional grandmas into the maw of corporations just to briefly assuage their insatiable hunger.
Of course, Americans of the religious right don’t want to kill the old and sick themselves. They just want to “let” them die. They want “nature” to “take its course” so life can go on…for the people who matter.
If this was just an either/or proposition, perhaps they might even be right. But it isn’t. We could choose to send monthly checks to every worker until the pandemic was under control. Such a program would cost less than the trillions given to corporations. And even if we insisted on giving money primarily to these corporations, we could still choose to make the bailouts contingent on corporations paying their employees. There are a variety of other options to explore as well.
But for the religious right, sending someone a check just for sitting at home not infecting anyone is a sin far worse than senilicide, worse than euthanizing the disabled, worse than terminally ill patients requesting medication to allow them the luxury of dying painlessly on a timeline of their choosing.
No, the only moral course of action is to let Grandma, and Grandpa, and Aunt Sally, and Cousin Joe suffer for three weeks on a ventilator before dying. If healthcare professionals also get sick and die, or bring it home to their family causing some of their loved ones to die, well, they all knew what they were getting into when they applied to nursing programs and medical schools. And if hospital custodians get sick and die, too, no one forced them to get a job at a medical facility. Besides, it’s not a sin to let poor people die naturally, is it? That’s just “life.”
If “the economy” is more important than the lives of anyone who “might” die in the next few months or years, why not just kill everyone outright who reaches the age of 65 or 70? No one needs to battle over Social Security anymore. Think of the money we could save by not wasting it on these mostly unproductive people. And that’s just their pensions. There are tens of billions more to save every year by no longer wasting medical treatment on people who are doomed to die relatively soon no matter how much we spend on them.
We might as well round up and euthanize all the homeless people, too. Think of the millions we could save, how lovely our cities could be without them. Pretending that all human life deserves equal respect is just a big waste of money. Even worse, it’s inconvenient.
Americans are happy with politicians who dedicate a trillion dollars a year to the military because that outrageous expense will “save lives.” So why does money matter now to save our most vulnerable? Do we only stand up for others when it’s easy?
We don’t have to sacrifice the economy to save the most vulnerable in our community. We don’t have to sacrifice the most vulnerable in our community to save the economy.
We might, however, need to sacrifice corporate welfare.
That’s a death panel we should all want to be on.