Fuss over VA document on end-of-life issues overblown

Providing the important information for veterans to consider is sold public policy.


Death is a subject most of us don't want to think about or talk about. Yet, it's important to do so -- especially with our families. In this way we can make important decisions about our medical treatment -- including whether we want treatment -- as we face the end of our lives.

Too often brother can be pitted against sister in trying to decide what their mother would have wanted if she can't speak for herself. Personal views and family dynamics often result in acrimony and bitterness.

This is why health-care professionals urge people to really think about these issues, make decisions and then write their wishes down.

Yet, the Department of Veterans Affairs has come under fire for distributing a booklet dealing with end-of-life issues to veterans under its care.

On Monday Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., called� for the VA to suspend its use of the document.

"There is an issue as to whether the VA document inappropriately pressures disabled veterans to� forgo critical care by subtly urging them on end-of-life decisions," Specter wrote in a letter requesting that the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hold a hearing on the matter.

VA officials responded quickly saying the document has been misrepresented by critics.�

"Recently, some folks have been distorting the purpose of a Veterans Affairs planning tool called 'Your Life, Your Choices,' " VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts told The Washington Post. "The booklet is designed to help veterans deal with excruciating questions about what kind of health care they would like to receive if they are unable to make decisions for themselves."

This fuss is all about politics. The national debate on health care has liberals and conservatives whipped into a frenzy. An effort has been made to undermine the Obama administration's health-care reform plans by claiming that medical care would be withheld for those who didn't have much time to live. Obama has said over and over that's nonsense.

Nevertheless, end-of-life planning has become a lightning rod for controversy, which is why Specter -- himself embroiled in political turmoil after switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat -- has made the VA's document an issue.

The VA makes more than its share of blunders, so just about everything it does should be looked at cautiously. But in his case, the VA has it right.

The document was developed under a federally funded research grant and published in 1997. It is not an advance directive nor living will, the VA spokeswoman said.�

Now, it is certainly possible that the wording of parts of this booklet might give mixed messages. It would be prudent for VA officials to comb through the booklet to make sure certain sections of the document cannot be construed by a reasonable person to push veterans in a particular direction.

Ultimately, however, providing a document aimed at provoking a thoughtful discussion on end-of-life decisions is sound policy.


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