Less than the Least

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September 2009 Archives

September 8, 2009

Life Issues and Healthcare Reform--Skeel

 A key issue with both life issues that have flared up in the healthcare debate—“death panels” and funding for abortion—is coercion. If healthcare reform requires doctors to consult with their elderly or other patients about end of life healthcare options, and facilitates funding for abortion, will patients be pressured to forego costly life preserving interventions or to have abortions?

I think the danger is greater with abortion. Although pro choice advocates often scorn the claim that doctors pressure women to abort, I’m firmly convinced they do. I’ve seen it happen, even in my sheltered little world. It’s easy to see why. If tests show a high risk of problems, a doctor can’t help but fear she’ll be blamed, and possibly face a big malpractice suit. If the doctor is pro-choice, there’s a powerful incentive to push for abortion. Some, perhaps many, do. Any healthcare bill that increases funding for abortion, whether directly or indirectly, will make it easier for doctors to prod more people to have abortions.
With elderly patients, on the other hand, doctors do not have the same perverse incentives. Regardless of which treatment a doctor counsels, she is not likely to be sued by the patient’s family if the patient dies. So long as the doctor with whom the patient consults does not have a financial incentive to steer patients away from life preserving interventions, the risk of coercion is relatively low. 
The death panels have made for dramatic talking points, but I think the more frightening issue is the risk that the coming reforms will mean more money and more pressure for abortion.

September 14, 2009


As the days shorten and fall activities begin, one of the summer rituals I will miss most is sitting on our back porch at the end of the day. At around 7pm most days, white tailed deer—usually two or three—strut across the yard to our neighbor’s apple tree. If they notice us, they freeze for a minute or so, ears flattened, then resume their foraging. Sometimes they chase each other around the neighbor’s very large yard. Once or twice, we’ve seen them stand on their back legs for a few seconds, trying to reach higher apples. It’s amazing to think such large, beautiful animals live in the small pockets of woods of our suburban township.

The herd has steadily increased in the twelve years we’ve lived in this northern suburb of Philadelphia. Gardeners trade tips on how to keep them out—a fence still seems to be the only foolproof strategy. I think the township should allow periodic hunting to reduce the number of deer, but not in my backyard. I know my wife agrees, at least with the backyard part. A decade ago, when our children were small, she looked out and saw two hunters traipsing across our lawn with crossbows. Asked what they were doing, they said the owner of a nearby wooded property had given them permission to hunt, and they were tracking a deer they thought they’d hit. My wife made it very clear they wouldn’t be doing any tracking near us. They seem to have gotten the message. We haven’t seen any hunters since.