Thursday, July 24, 2008

Let those old people die

Should our Medicare dollars be going to keep old people alive? No, says Slate's "Human Nature" columnist, William Saletan, in a post yesterday called "Age, Wealth, and Medicare." Basically, Saletan complains that taxpayer money is being spent to put pacemakers in people over 90 years old, and that, he says, is wrong. His conclusion could not be more clear:

If you make it to 100 and can fund your own surgery, that's terrific. But Medicare should focus its resources on people who haven't been as lucky as you. Living to 99 is no tragedy. It's a blessing.

This, of course, is the same William Saletan who last year fell naively into the arms of "scientific racists" and managed to convince himself that some races were genetically inferior in intelligence to others. He then had to backtrack in a series of followups in which he finally admitted that he had failed to adequately check out his story, and particularly the context in which this debate takes place (the entire series is reproduced at the link provided.) So one would think that Saletan would be a bit more humble and think his columns through just a little more before putting his fingers on that keyboard.

The Medicare budget for 2008 fiscal year is about $465 billion. Total spending so far on the war in Iraq is $650 billion, as I pointed out in an earlier post. And yet Saletan, like so many who speak piously about the need to carefully allocate our precious taxpayer funds as if they were wise sages grappling with difficult ethical questions, seems to accept without a second thought the idea that Medicare spending should be tightened despite the aging of the population he himself mentions: "The population of U.S. centenarians (people 100 or older) has nearly doubled since 2000. Trends suggest that within 40 years, it could exceed 1 million."

Shouldn't those who talk about allocation of resources look at the entire picture before drawing conclusions about which expenditures constitute waste or are excessive? The Bush administration has made cuts in Medicare spending a central plank of its fiscal policy, but they don't blink an eye over requests to pour ever more money into our Iraq misadventure (neither does Congress, much, these days.)

God forbid that those who have managed to live a long life should be allowed to continue living it. Perhaps we should start asking for volunteers to be euthanized so we don't have to grow the Medicare budget to take care of all these malingerers who refuse to die at a reasonable age. Saletan, how old are you now? You are never too young to die for your country!

Photo: A 100-year-old woman paraglides off a mountain peak in Cyprus. Reuters.

Update: What do I see on the New York Times home page today? The Bush administration wants to divert $230 million in anti-terror funds to upgrade Pakistan's F-16 jets, which are not used in the "war on terror" but rather are on standby for war with India. I wonder how many pacemaker operations that money would fund?

Backdate: I do not mean to imply by this post, by the way, that just any old person is qualified to be president of the United States. A couple of days ago, in the L.A. Weekly, my pal Marc Cooper suggested it was time for the referee to step in and stop the fight.


Anne Gilbert said...

I have become increasingly appalled by Saletan's output on Slate. First, a couple of years ago, he come out with some antiabortion diatribe, then, last year, he defended James Watson's dreadful remarks about the supposed intellectual inferiority of people whose roots are in sub-Saharan Africa. Now he wants to cut tax supported care for people over 90 years old????? God forbid he should live to a very old age! I come from a "long-lived" family; a number of people have lived to very old ages including my grandfather and grandmother and my uncle who is still living. There were long-lived people on my mother's side, too. They all were reasonably healthy until the day they died, so to speak. I hope I, too, may be that lucky. And maybe Saletan will be, too, given his views, but if he isn't. . . well I don't knwo what to say, given the views he has expressed. As I say, I have become increasingly appalled by his pronouncements.
Anne G

Anonymous said...

Yes, serious that we drag on old peoples' lives in misery, with life style destroyed. And we load our society with tons of old people who cause problems. So yes, let those old people die. I am almost 60, yes, let me die.

Anonymous said...

I am outraged by the military budget, whihc is now going to be 700 billion when it should easily be halved. But I also think it is a good question to ask if we should be doing organ transplants in people after a certain age when young people cannot get basic healthcare. It is not about killing pople, but death is in nature's plan. Keeping someone alive artificially when their quality of life is diminished is not kind or noble. It robs people of dignity, as I have seen with people in my family. I never want to be kept alive on machines, in pain, in a hospital, if there is no chance of recovery. It is not unkind to allow people to die. It is unkind to prevent young people from having healthcare, etc because elderly people have a strong voting block. We have enough money to take care of us all if the older people had ever cared more, but everything that benefits us all is "socialism" so they voted that down. I have watched my elders vote for an America where social programs went unfunded, so why should all the money go to medicare now? Although, if we keep them alive as long as we can, maybe we can make jobs for young people taking care of lal the old people who never die. Oh, so many possibilities.