Is Cost-Benefit Analysis Replacing 'Do No Harm'?

Bobby Schindler | Host of “America’s Lifeline” on WGUL Tampa | Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Is Cost-Benefit Analysis Replacing 'Do No Harm'?

March 31, 2009

Today marks four years since the highly-publicized death of Terri Schiavo—and the passing of my sister remains an ominous marker of the movement of our government and culture on the value of human life. The average American need only pay passing attention to medical news to recognize that there is a direct assault on the equality and moral worth of all human life.

Millions of deaths occur each year due to abortion, assisted suicide and the dehydration of our cognitively disabled, the chronically ill and the elderly.

A health care system whose mode of medical ethics has shifted from a life-preserving “do no harm” approach to a cost/benefit analysis that essentially identifies who is and who is not “worthy” of treatment only makes matters worse. This dangerous shift has and will continue to add premature deaths to an already staggering number.

But what should really send a chill down every American’s spine is what we see in President Obama’s new “stimulus” bill.

According to a February 2009 op-ed by Cal Thomas, titled “How About a Stimulus for Life?” the new Obama stimulus bill will allow “a Washington official to monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.” This is what Mr. Thomas calls a one-way ticket to euthanasia. He also warns us that once this euthanasia door is opened, “there will be no closing it and dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.”

Perhaps it is just gross apathy, but most Americans seem completely unaware of what is going on behind the scenes at hospitals and hospices across the country—despite the growing number of warnings signs. If these early warning signs are ignored, death will follow in waves.

We would do well to take a lesson from the early coal miners in our nation’s history who took canaries into the mines to detect toxic levels of gases that could kill the miners. If the canary died, the miners knew to vacate the mine immediately, lest they, too, succumb to the gases’ effects.

The reasons for concern are not difficult to find. Just look at the cases of Randy Stroup and Barbara Wagner of Oregon. Both Stroup and Wagner had been battling terminal cancer. When they put requests in to the state for life-extending treatment, they were informed by the state that the treatment that would extend their life was denied; however the state would be more than happy to pay for their assisted suicide (physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon since 1997).

What is now referred to as “futile” medical care should cause us all more than a little distress. Doctors and hospital ethics committees are now deciding that in certain circumstances, where (in their opinion) there is “no hope for improvement,” no course of treatment will be provided. In Texas, the futile care law empowers hospital ethics committees to order termination of life-sustaining treatment, giving the patients and their families just 10 days to find another hospital. Equally disturbing is that these futile care laws permit doctors to refuse even wanted treatment that is provided for in a patient’s written advance directive.

In fact, according to an April 2005 report by the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, “the laws of all but ten states may allow doctors and hospitals to disregard advance directives when they call for treatment, food, or fluids.”

Sadly, most Americans are not aware of these early signals of danger because they are not adequately reported in the mainstream media.

I don’t think that the general public is so desensitized to the intrinsic value of human life that they will accept these types of decisions. They want proper care, not a push out of the lifeboat.

With the new administration in Washington not being shy about how little they value life, every single one of us should be very concerned about getting sick or suffering a debilitating accident. More importantly, we should all educate ourselves on the issue and be an informed and vocal advocate for our own lives and the lives of those we love.

Bobby Schindler is the host of “America’s Lifeline” heard Saturdays on WGUL in Tampa and online through their Web site. He is the brother of Terri Schiavo and has been working with the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, Center for Health Care Ethics in St. Petersburg, Fla. Contact Bobby at [email protected].