When my grandmother got very ill during the campaign, she got cancer; it was determined to be terminal. And about two or three weeks after her diagnosis she fell, broke her hip. It was determined that she might have had a mild stroke, which is what had precipitated the fall.
So now she’s in the hospital, and the doctor says, Look, you’ve got about — maybe you have three months, maybe you have six months, maybe you have nine months to live. Because of the weakness of your heart, if you have an operation on your hip there are certain risks that — you know, your heart can’t take it. On the other hand, if you just sit there with your hip like this, you’re just going to waste away and your quality of life will be terrible.
And she elected to get the hip replacement and was fine for about two weeks after the hip replacement, and then suddenly just — you know, things fell apart.
I don’t know how much that hip replacement cost. I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement just because she’s my grandmother. Whether, sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model, is a very difficult question. If somebody told me that my grandmother couldn’t have a hip replacement and she had to lie there in misery in the waning days of her life — that would be pretty upsetting.
...I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance. And that’s part of what I suspect you’ll see emerging out of the various health care conversations that are taking place on the Hill right now.
A successful hip replacement might have let the President's grandmother go to her beloved grandson's inauguration. Insurance in a nation as wealthy as the U.S. should cover the procedure.
But an ethically guided health care system should consider costs, and every doctor and nurse who has dealt with end of life care knows that many of the interventions we make are, in balance, harmful and should not be done, and that others could, at best, provide tiny benefits at enormous cost, and should be questioned. These are among the issues we need to understand better and deliberate about.
The final paragraph in the quote suggests that the President and his advisers have thought about a public process designed to foster more informed political dialogue and to head off the kind of posturing and demagoguery we saw at the end of Terry Schiavo's life.
The interview touches on other important issues for health care reform - I'll probably write about these next week. But the President's words point in a promising direction!