The republicans charge that Democratic health care reform would, in Sen. Charles Grassley's words, "pull the plug on Grandma." According to Sen. Jon Kyl, the bills before Congress would ration medical treatment by age. Rep. John Boehner says they promote euthanasia. Sarah Palin has raised the specter of "death panels." Such fears are understandable. It's not preposterous to imagine laws that would try to save money by encouraging the inconvenient elderly to make an early exit. After all, that's been the Republican policy for years.
It was Grassley himself who devised the "Throw Mama From the Train" provision of the GOP's 2001 tax cut. The estate-tax revision he championed will reduce the estate tax to zero next year. But when it expires at year's end, the tax will jump back up to its previous level of 55 percent. Grassley's exploding tax break has an entirely foreseeable, if unintended, consequence: it incentivizes ailing, elderly rich people to end their lives—paging Dr. Kevorkian—before midnight on Dec. 31, 2010. It also gives their children an incentive to sign DNR orders and switch off respirators in time for the deadline. This would be a great plot for a P. D. James novel if it weren't an actual piece of legislation.
[...] Republicans in Congress have created a similar inducement for Grandma not to die before January 2010, but to make sure she is gone by January 2011.
But why would Republicans be trying to kill old people? After all, senior citizens are more likely to vote for the GOP than for Democrats. They were the only substantial demographic segment John McCain won in 2008. You'd think conservatives would want them to hang on as long as possible. The problem is that because of the Democratic programs Social Security and Medicare, the aged are expensive for government to keep around. The writer Jodie T. Allen once explained the reason for the GOP's "pro-death" policies: faced with an unpalatable choice between cutting benefits and raising taxes to pay for the growing costs of entitlement programs, Republicans gravitated toward a third alternative—restraining growth in life expectancy. If you want lower taxes and aren't willing to risk cutting spending, you need fewer beneficiaries.
I do not wish to alarm older, wealthier readers, but you may find family gatherings becoming increasingly tense over the next year. Do not be surprised if your heirs try to sit you down for a "conversation." And do not be surprised if you experience something like the following nightmare: You're in a hospital bed, hovering in a state of partial consciousness. Beneath the mask, that surgeon has a familiar face … wait, isn't that … Dr. Grassley? And who's that with the syringe—Nurse Palin? At which point, if you are lucky, you will wake up in a cold sweat.
I wonder if the Repugs will support Medicare reimbursement for 'end of life counselling' with estate planners and tax lawyers? Does Grandma have to show up herself or can we just plan for her?