The debate over whether advance care planning is actually another way to describe death panels is rearing its ugly head again since regulation started January 1st. The few folks who are still fuzzy on exactly what the intent of the regulation is are claiming that it will cause some folks who are facing some tough decisions, such as whether or not to continue life-sustaining treatment, to just say the heck with it and have their caregivers pull the plug.
While that is not the case at all with this particular piece of legislation, what most people should be concerned with is how many trees are going to be killed by going forward with the initiative. Yes, I said trees will die and plenty of them, which will probably get the anti-tree huggers folks all riled up with their discourse on hippies and climate change weirdos, but that is a debate for another time.
The point I'm trying to make is that the real losers in any piece of historical legislation are always the trees. Just to start the process, you need bills, and bills are always written with the least amount of brevity because, let's face it, everyone has an opinion as to what they want the bill to say and Senators and Representatives are no exception. Speaking of which, you don't have one bill, you have a House bill and you have a Senate bill on the same subject. In the case of this proposed legislation, each of those initial bills counted out at over a thousand pages each.
Then you have the combined bill which finally came out to around 2700 plus pages, give or take a subsection. I've worked at law firms all my life, and I've seen one draft of a brief of say 30 pages get sometimes up to ten or more re-writes before it is filed with the court. If two or three attorneys are working on the case, each of them has to have a copy of the brief and subsequent drafts. Let's just say that at the end of the day, it is no longer considered a brief.
But let's get back to the end-of-life planning phase of the Health Care Reform Bill. To start the process, there are pamphlets to give out at doctors' offices to inform patients of their rights. One can only imagine the hundreds of man hours it took to come up with just the right wording on that pamphlet and the re-writes to get it just so. Telling someone they have options when it comes to dying can be a tricky business. It's not something you jot down on a cocktail napkin the night before at Joe's bar and then go into work the next day and punch it up for your editor's approval.
After perusing the pamphlet, a patient may make the decision to take advantage of their options, in which case, there are forms to fill out. Consider this. Just filling out the forms to become a patient at a doctor's office entails filling out and reading about a dozen forms, so imagine the paperwork involved in deciding whether or not you want to continue living when it comes time to make that decision. It would be insensitive to offer less paperwork to allow someone to make a right-to-death decision than it does to visit say a proctologist would it not?
The doctors who care for the patients have to fill out more paperwork to advise governmental authorities of their involvement with the plan, and, of course, insurance companies will want to be informed of what's going on, considering the windfall they get if someone decides to cut short their drain on resources to keep them alive.
All of this paperwork should have the trees of the world shaking in their roots. With all the advanced technology we have these days, you still see multiple thousand-page plus bills sitting on legislators' desks waiting to be read. And we're not just talking health care, we're talking about finance reform, DADT regulations being changed, etc. If you've been hospitalized lately, you know that it takes the equivalent of time from just after breakfast to the noon hour to sort through all the paperwork the hospital administrators load you down with upon arrival at their facility to make sure they will get their money before your departure. And when you do check out, assuming you didn't check the end-of-life box on the aforementioned forms, there are inch-thick piles of yet more forms to sign before they wheelchair you out of there.
Next time you want to talk death, take a moment to remember the living things that are giving their lives every day for our propensity to change something for nothing more sometimes than a misspelled word. "The Heath Care Reform Act-Senate Version"…there goes another couple thousand acres of forest.