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EDITORIAL: The Real Death Panels

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Art by Helen Liu, staff artist

As the new Obama administration began to establish itself in 2009, the running mate of Obama’s opponent, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, garnered sharp criticism from both sides of the political aisle when she came out strongly against the Democratic government’s plan to bring the nation closer to single-payer, universal health care. The plan (and legislation) she was specifically against was an early version of what is now called Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, and specifically a clause in the legislation that would reimburse physicians who provided optional end-of-life counseling. 

Palin decried the clause as an attempt at eugenics, alleging that it would encourage the termination of those who were unproductive towards society, and claiming that bureaucratic “death panels” would determine whether an individual would get to live or not based on their abilities. (The clause was eventually dropped from any further pieces of legislation after the Affordable Health Choices Act failed to become law, including from the ACA). To be clear, the Democratic leadership of Congress or the administration at the time did not make any hint of supporting eugenics, and it was under Democratic congressional leadership that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.  Fact-checkers after fact-checkers rejected Governor Palin’s claims as false. 

Fast forward eleven years later, and a conservative firebrand not unlike Governor Palin is in office, not as Vice President, but as President. At the time of writing, (August 21st, 2020) a new, deadly coronavirus has killed more than 172,000 Americans and infected more than 5 million, according to CDC data from the day prior. Stay-at-home orders have long expired. No nationwide mask mandate exists, and while an overwhelming majority of Americans wear masks in public, there are still those, time and time again, who refuse to comply. With subnational governments across the country rushing to reopen, hospitals in various parts of the nation, particularly those who are underfunded and understaffed have found that the resources they need to keep treating coronavirus patients have run out. 

And a month ago, reports surfaced from the only hospital serving a border county in southern Texas claiming that because of short supply in resources coupled with rising coronavirus cases, medical staff were having to make determinations about who to save and who to let go. Just as Governor Palin predicted, life-and-death decisions were being made by people - except not out of malice or hatred of the disabled, but instead because of necessity - who happened to be the doctors, rather than governors or soldiers, that were in charge of keeping people safe. 

Because of their inability to save everyone that came in, spurred because of what they didn’t have, these doctors were being forced to decide on whom to focus their care and on whom they had to leave to die. 

A month has passed since that damning report. Cases still rise. Deaths still rise. Real people become infected, thousands of them, with each passing hour. Some recovered. Some gave in. And some had the potential to be saved but could not be because in that small hospital in southern Texas, doctors were forced to take the ventilator off. 

In that time, the uneasiness and uncertainty has continued. In that time, nothing seems to halt the tide of the coronavirus that wrecks everything in its path. In that time, hope has shriveled, slowly but surely, for so many Americans who are displaced from their homes, out of a job, and/or even with the coronavirus. 

But in that time, that same hope has also bloomed. The Democratic Party wraps up its virtual convention, and as it does, it promises a strong, steady hand to guide the nation through the mess that it is in. While, slightly paraphrasing from Joe Biden’s quotes of his father, it does not expect to (completely) solve our problems when it governs, it seeks to understand them. 

Joe Biden understands that the paramount task should be getting this pandemic, and its resultant economic crisis, under control first - to stop doctors across the country from having to institute “death panels”. He has a clear, coherent plan to control the coronavirus that he can articulate effectively, both in oral and written means, as well as mitigating its effects, whether on employment, health care, and the survival of small businesses. But that, after four nights of a message of unity and a light at the end of the tunnel, may very well be the element that will carry him to victory, and with him, the nation. 

The very existence of death panels shows that this pandemic is not under control, but also that America’s leaders who each hold their own scepter of power have failed to comprehend the situation clearly. The president tweets in caps, launching furious rants, instead of calmly articulating his plan to bring back the economy that he once boasted of. He invites those who believe in and propagate false misinformation to be the clownish standard-bearers of the fight against the coronavirus. 

In this time of despair and crisis, leaders are supposed to be leaders. Kings are supposed to act like kings, and presidents are supposed to act like presidents. Across the world, leaders have risen to the task - almost except, because of the above factors, Donald Trump. And the results are clear: as aforementioned, cases in the US continue to rise, while in the rest of the world, they are substantially lower. 

With this crisis and its bleak reality that has long set in, I ask Governor Palin this. I ask the Republican Party this, with all of this that plainly stares at all of us in the face. I ask the President, and all those who stood by Governor Palin for years and years after those words flew out of her mouth, this: 

Where are the death panels now? The real death panels, that is. 


Sammy Baek is a staff writer at The Incandescent Review. He is a junior in Naperville, Illinois. He is a 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards National Silver Medalist, a finalist at the 2019-20 Chicago Metro History Fair Senior Division, and a finalist at the 2019 Martin Luther King Oratory Contest. He is currently a member of his school's Model UN club and covers history and politics for the Plvs Vltra blog. Follow its Instagram account @plvsvltra_sb.

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