Monday, March 26, 2012
Dick Cheney's Heart
Medical advances have made it increasingly common for older Americans such as Dick Cheney to receive heart transplants, extending their lives. The trend may make it more difficult for younger patients as aging Baby Boomers compete for available organs, top cardiologists say.
All political questions aside (like easy comments about Cheney's lack of heart--or musings about what his co-pay was for the surgery--and what his health-care coverage is like--and whether he was "in-network" or not), I'd like to think a bit about this whole notion of end-of-life decisions--and who makes them.
Trollope's novel--which I read in 2006--was published in 1882 and was one of the last books he lived to see published (he died in December that same year). It's a novel unlike a lot of his other works--fanciful and futuristic and dark. In it, a group of idealistic colonists decide to populate an island where they will live in harmony. Until age 67 (my age now! the "fixed period" of life). At which time, the person would go into a facility (a pleasant one) and at some point ... gently ... be dispatched. The people were New Zealanders who relocated to the island of "Britannula."
All of this, of course, deals with a significant public moral issue that we'd rather not talk about too much: how much, medically, do we do for older folks? How much should we do? And what is "older," anyhow? A certain age? A "fixed period"? We've all known people who were "old" at 50, "young" at 90.
So far we've been unable to come up with much but nonsense about "death panels" and cautious comments from politicians, who know that older people are not only old; they love to vote.
Perhaps Cheney's transplant will nudge the issue forward ... perhaps not.
But I'll leave you with an image: my 92-year-old mother, unable to stir easily from her chair, reading a new novel, thinking about it, talking about it ... laughing and crying and transported by words.