Joseph Maraachli, born January 22, 2010, suffers from the Classic Infantile form of Sandhoff disease. The thirteen-month-old has been in a vegetative state since last fall, has minimal brain function, and will inevitably die sometime within the next two years. Until earlier this month, Joseph was being kept alive on a respirator in a Canadian hospital in London, Ontario. On February 17, when he developed the need for a tracheotomy, his doctors decided it would be both cruel and futile to subject him to the surgery, and opted to remove him from the respirator, an action planned for February 21 (in a sad irony, the day is celebrated as “Family Day” in much of Canada). At that point an American priest and several “right-to-life” groups, as well as Fox News, intervened at the urging of the child’s parents and managed to have Joseph relocated to Missouri, where he had the tracheotomy performed this week. He will remain under skilled nursing care until his death.
I became aware of this story when it was reported recently at Free Republic, amid much tearful rejoicing and some gloating triumphalism over having defeated the “death panel” that would deprive baby Joseph of his life. Read the first dozen comments or so, and you will see how overjoyed the Freepers were to hear of this baby’s “rescue.”
Now, I know quite a lot about the people who posted those comments. I’ve followed them individually for years, and I understand their political views. They are fierce believers in “cost-cutting”…not just to the subcutaneous level…right down to the bone! But do they have any concern at all for the cost of surgery for this terminally ill, comatose child, followed by keeping him hospitalized on a respirator for a year (possibly two years) until his inevitable death?
This perplexes me. It’s a conundrum, a true enigma. So I tug at the thread a bit:
- In 2009, Medicare paid $55 billion for hospital and doctor bills in the last two months of patients’ lives. From the linked article: “That’s more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Education. And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact. Most of the bills are paid for by the federal government with few or no questions asked.” The most expensive city to die in is Manhattan, where your last 6 months will cost you, on average, $35,838; the least expensive is Wichita Falls, Texas, at $10,913.
- More and more older people are demanding—and receiving—major organ transplants, including heart, lung, liver and kidney. “The fastest growing part of our waiting list is older people,” says Walter Graham, executive director of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a Richmond, Va. nonprofit that operates OPTN under a federal government contract. “At the end of 1989, only a few hundred of the roughly 15,750 people awaiting organ transplants—about one in forty—was 65 or older; 20 years later, more than 17,700 of the nearly 105,600-person waiting list—one in six—was at least 65 years old.”
- Heart surgery, including bypass, angioplasty and pacemaker installations, has risen sharply in patients over the age of 80 in recent years. “Over the last decade we are doing procedures in patients once believed to be too old for these procedures,” said chest surgeon Dr. Mark R. Katlic, of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “It’s my belief that this is a positive development,” he said, cautioning that the study didn’t prove the new treatment had reduced the number of deaths.
- And, finally, new cancer “wonder” drugs are available that prolong life for a few weeks or months, but cost $100,000 for a course of treatment. These drugs are in huge demand, and health insurers are increasingly pressured to pay for them.
All these things cause me to ask two questions.
- How can the very group of people who want to “cut costs to the bone” at the same time justify this vast societal expenditure for measures that will, at best, prolong an individual’s life by a few months or years? All those costs for the last six months of life… averaging about $20,000 a person nationwide…are by definition futile expenditures since they are, after all, the last six months of life. Yet these “cost-cutters” would be the first to scream “death panels!” if anybody should suggest this money could be better spent elsewhere, and that people should be allowed to die at home or in hospice with limited medical intervention apart from hefty doses of inexpensive morphine to ease the pain.
- I have no data to support this, but I would guess that the vast majority of the cost-cutting death-panel opponents are also practicing Christians. Because I see their obituaries all the time in the paper, I know they believe death takes them to a paradise of eternal joy. So why do they want to fight tooth and nail (and expend vast amounts of national treasure) to delay this longed-for event as long as humanly and scientifically possible…even if that’s just a few months?
I wish somebody could give me the answers.
And to Baby Joseph…I wish you peace, little one, and an end to your suffering, and comfort for your grieving parents.
- ‘Baby Joseph’ to Undergo Surgery in U.S. Hospital (foxnews.com)
- Baby Joseph Gets Second Chance at U.S. Hospital (foxnews.com)
- ‘Baby Joseph’ likely to have surgery within days, hospital says (cnn.com)
- Baby Joseph transferred to U.S. hospital (nationalpost.com)
- Giving Baby Joseph Back His Dignity: Along with a Wake-up Call to America! (erasetheneed.wordpress.com)
- Baby Joseph undergoes surgery in U.S. hospital (cbc.ca)