America Needs to Embrace Death
Lowering health care costs means cutting unnecessary end-of-life treatment
By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2009 1:26 PM CDT
A clinic at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, BC allows health care specialists to coordinate the treatment of patients with complex chronic illnesses to improve the quality of care and reduce costs.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
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(Newser) – Nobody wants to talk about rationing health care, but “the need to spend less money on the elderly at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate,” Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek. To expand coverage and lower costs, Americans must overcome their urge to extend life at any price, and “learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome.”

There are concrete American success stories that show the way: a Massachusetts hospital keeps elderly patients in constant contact with nurses to drive down costly doctors’ visits, while a Wisconsin program encourages patients to make early decisions about end-of-life treatment to cut unwanted procedures. Thomas’ mother, for example, was over-treated until she finally insisted on dying in a hospice. “My mother wanted to die,” he writes, “but the doctors wouldn't let her.”