Debate Over Department of Veterans Affairs'
Only Strengthens Reasons for Concern
"If President Obama wants to better understand why America's discomfort
with end-of-life discussions threatens to derail his health-care
reform, he might begin with his own Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA). He will quickly discover how government bureaucrats are greasing
the slippery slope that can start with cost containment but quickly
become a systematic denial of care."
From "The Death Book for Veterans," by Jim
Towey, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal August 19, 2009.
Although Jim Towey's column has stirred the proverbial hornet's nest,
my hunch is that not enough people are aware of the growing controversy
over what is afoot at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
According to Towey (the one-time director of President George W. Bush's
Faith-Based Initiatives, among other things), the VA has brought back
to life a death initiative into which Bush tried to drive a stake back
in 2007. All this, needless to say, is being pooh-poohed by the Obama
Wall Street Journal piece,
charges that a 52-page "hurry up and die" workbook/primer titled Your
Life, Your Choices: Planning for Future Medical Decisions "presents
end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward
predetermined conclusions, much like a political 'push poll.' For
example, a worksheet on page 21 lists various scenarios and asks users
to then decide whether their own life would be 'not worth living.'"
This "hurry-up-and-die message is clear and unconscionable," Towey
writes. "Worse, a July 2009 VA directive instructs its primary care
physicians to raise advance care planning with all VA patients and to
refer them to 'Your Life, Your Choices.' Not just those of advanced age
and debilitated condition--all patients. America's 24 million veterans
Since the document is available online (complete with a quickly added
disclaimer once Towey's op-ed appeared), I read it for myself to see if
Towey's allegations held water. And, unfortunately, they most assuredly
The workbook is permeated from the first grim example onward with a
bias in favor of death--of presenting one scenario after another
followed by the question (begging for a negative response) would you
really want to remain alive if you were in one of these conditions?
More about this in a moment.
One can only wonder, as Towey does, how a disabled young solider coming
back from Iraq or Afghanistan would react to the following:
The circumstances listed include ones common among the elderly and
disabled: living in a nursing home, being in a wheelchair and not being
able to "shake the blues." There is a section which provocatively asks,
"Have you ever heard anyone say, 'If I'm a vegetable, pull the plug'?"
There also are guilt-inducing scenarios such as "I can no longer
contribute to my family's well being," "I am a severe financial burden
on my family" and that the vet's situation "causes severe emotional
burden for my family."
When the government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for
themselves that life is not worth living, who needs a death panel?
When Towey debated Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary of Veterans
Affairs, yesterday on Fox News Sunday, it is instructive, to say the
least, that Duckworth refused to be on the air at the same time. Forced
to defend an unconscionable document, Duckworth--herself a decorated
veteran--was reduced to denying the undeniable.
For example, as an increasingly exasperated host Chris Wallace
patiently pointed out, the VA, under the Obama Administration, did
resuscitate Your Life, Your Choices last July after the VA, under the
Bush administration, had suspended it in 2008. And the directive did
"urg[e] providers to refer patients to it." And the "Note" now on the
VA website [which states that the document is "currently undergoing
revision" and "will be available soon"] did not exist until after
Towey's op-ed appeared in the Journal.
To make matters worse, Duckworth also not-too-subtly suggested Towey's
motives included promoting a small book he authored on end of life
Please take the time to read the document
. Only if you read this for yourself can you appreciate how dangerous
The scariest section is titled, "What make your life worth living?" It
lists a series of circumstances and asks "if this factor by itself
described you" would you find it "difficult, but acceptable"; "worth
living, but just barely"; "not worthy living"; or "can't answer now"
(but how-we-can-help-you-decide hints at the bottom of the page).
Those circumstances include, "I live in a nursing home," "I am a severe
financial burden on my family," and "I cannot seem to 'shake the
blues.'" Just in case the reader isn't quite ready to go the direction
the workbook clearly prefers, it helpfully asks, "If you checked 'worth
living, but just barely' for more than one factor, would a combination
of these factors make your life 'not worth living?' If so, which
As Towey pointed out on Fox News Sunday,
The biggest problem is that when you go beyond those questions to the
boxes you check, the first option you have, "it's difficult but
acceptable," a lot of people with disabilities, a lot of people who
have family members with stroke, find life beautiful. There's meaning
and purpose. Sure, they're suffering, but their life hasn't been
diminished by that illness.
I think there -- if you were trying to be unbiased and fair, you'd have
a box that starts off that says "My life is beautiful. Yes, I suffer,
but I find meaning in it."
Yes, that would be proper...if the goal were to be "unbiased and fair."
But in an Administration whose first instinct is to decrease the level
of care to the elderly and the most vulnerable (ostensibly to make it
available to all), it is only prudent to suspect the worst.
Contact: Dave Andrusko
Date: August 24, 2009
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The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in
Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state
coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of
Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our
society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political
persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic
backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has
been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the
human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that
every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is
dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection
for the disabled and the elderly. Click here to learn more about the IFRL.