From the panel

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Below is an excerpt from "On Faith," an Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, more than 50 figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion. This week's question: Proposed health-care reform legislation includes a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision -- which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors -- nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans argue that the provision would ration health care for seniors. Does end-of-life care prolong life, or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?

End-of-life counseling, as I understand it, just tries to ensure that everyone knows what your wishes are should you become gravely ill. Do you want to be kept alive on machines? Do you want extraordinary means used to keep you alive?

End-of-life counseling is not some "death panel" deciding that some people should die and others live. Rather, it is making sure that when anyone dies, he or she can do it with dignity and with the family fully informed. . . .

I hope this health-care reform bill passes soon, and I hope the end-of-life counseling is funded. Bigger than that, I hope people will take advantage of that funding should it be provided so that their end days can be as free from confusion and angst as possible.

-- Susan K. Smith, senior pastor, Advent United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio

We can only consider end-of-life counseling as part of a whole commitment to treat people as having infinite worth and inherent human dignity. In that context, it makes perfect sense for health-care reform to include provisions that make it possible for people to keep their ability to act even at the end of life by making decisions that are informed by medical opinion.

End-of-life counseling respects human dignity. It is a critical part of reforming what is now so broken about health care.

-- Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

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