How To Kill

In Editorial on June 19, 2012 at 10:06 am

“Renal failure is a good way to go. You just go to sleep,” said this angel of death.

It took me a few days to get caught up sufficiently to sit down and read Joe Klein’s article “How To Die” in Time magazine (June 11, 2012).

First impression?

While Klein is a journalist, the piece contained more self-therapy than journalism. Throughout the article, Klein clearly attempts to assuage his guilt at being his parent’s “death panel”; a phrase Klein repeats often throughout it. As a journalist, Klein should know that journalism, real journalism, is never produced to be self-therapy.

Second impression?

Disdain for Klein, as a fellow Jew, for his becoming a useful idiot for the state.

Early on, Klein made much of his heritage. Yet, there was precious little evidence of Jewish behavior throughout his telling of the murder of his parents. He seemed a little annoyed at having his interview with Senator Grassley interrupted during the prologue to his murder story. His brother was absent, living in Asia. His concern about the placement of a feeding tube for his mother revolved around his need to keep her alive long enough to say “goodbye” to her.

But my real disdain for Klein revolves around how easily, despite his at least probable exposure to Jewish ethics, he listened to the coos of angels of death (the Geisinger doctors).

One angel of death, likely motivated by the possibility of getting a share in a cost saving redistribution bonus, murmured to Klein, “I noticed your mom has a do not resuscitate order (DNR) in her file, but your dad doesn’t. Should we add it on?”

Klein countered that his father saw old age as “a reversible condition” and would want (original author’s emphasis!) to be resuscitated.

I found this most disturbing. The son had knowledge of his father’s desire to have his life prolonged through medical intervention, when possible.

The angel of death batted aside the last known wishes of the old man. “You know”, he cooed, “that he broke two ribs when he fell in the bathroom last week. He’s very frail. If we tried to resuscitate him we’d probably break the rest of his ribs.”

Despite the fact that doctors frequently cause all sorts of bodily mayhem in often, successful resuscitations, even in otherwise young and healthy patients, the risk of a few broken ribs offset the elder Klein’s right to live (or die) in accordance with his wishes.

When Klein’s father later developed renal failure, a previously consulted non-Geisinger physician was approached for a medical opinion. The author gushed over the doctor’s “Geisinger-like candor” when the physician suggested that nothing medically be done for the dying, but stubbornly still-living, man.

“Renal failure is a good way to go. You just go to sleep,” said this angel of death.

For Jews, there is no “good” way to die. Dying is a bad thing. It is inevitable, but because it is inevitable does not make the mechanism of one’s dying a “good” thing.

By this doctor’s logic, no medical intervention should be offered to sick children; since they are eventually going to die anyway…as long as their deaths are “good” ones where they don’t suffer (at least visibly).

The angels of death had now set in motion all of the stage pieces that would pave the way to make their killing chambers available for the next, potentially bonus-yielding, dying patients.

While the author made much of his mother’s dementia as the justification for his interventions on behalf of the Geisinger angels of death, his mother was lucid enough to say, “I love you” at the end.

Such lucidity also suggests she may (Jews are always encouraged to look on the bright side) have had the ability to actively participate in her care; even minimally to the point of saying “I want to live” or “I want to die”. The spark of life still glimmered in Klein’s mother, despite the efforts of the angels of death. Even in the most Reform Jewish tradition, she should have been given, at a minimum, a chance to make a decision about her own fate!

But, the angels of death had already stamped “Denied” on any wishes she may have articulated. As every statist bureaucrat knows: “What the bureaucracy has set in motion, neither man, nor G-d, can forestall.”

The bureaucracy of pencil pushers and computer models had decreed that Mrs. Klein must die for the sake of bonuses potentially doled out to the Geisinger care panel who earned those profits by denying her care.

The end eventually came for Klein’s father. After telling his father that his mother had died (killed in accordance to the Geisinger plan), there was this exchange between dying father and his manipulated son:

“You did that (provided a bit of wine with the old man’s dinner)? That’s amazing, I really appreciate what you’re doing.”

The elder Klein clearly had an ability to recognize good from bad and to recognize kindnesses. I found myself wondering if the son ever told the old man, during these lucid periods, that he had opted not to give his father a choice about life-saving resuscitation and that he had decided renal failure was a “good” way for his father to die?

I envisioned the mercurial senior Klein, upon being given such news, exploding with: “You did what? You decided what? Who gave you the right? Don’t I get a say in this?”

No, the angels of death had decreed. Max Klein must die. There were financial costs and potential bonuses to be considered.

It was difficult for me as I approached the final paragraph of Joe Klein’s article. His father had always been a difficult man and a father who, at times I am sure, was difficult to love.

Klein told his father that he loved him. And this, this, was the most warming part of Klein’s sad telling: “I could have been better,” the father replied.

That short statement was a finest example of the Jewish concept of the first step in repentance, teshuva: Acknowledging one’s failings in a particular area of living or in one’s relationships. Max Klein, demented to the presumed point of being unable to participate in his medical care, was taking the most difficult step in Jewish atonement!

How could his son, who took so much pride in his heritage that he published a photo from his bar mitzvah in his article, be so blind to a basic concept of Judaism? Was he selectively ignorant of Jewish principles? Was he so selfish? Didn’t he remember anything from Hebrew School or when he studied for his bar mitzvah?

Despite my disdain for Joe Klein’s participation in the murder of his parents, I have some compassion for him.

He is not the first, and will not (sadly) be the last person to be tricked by angels of death or unwittingly forced to participate in the demise of fellow humans. He is certainly not the only Jew who did so.

The architects of the Holocaust also did away with “life unworthy of life”.

The most diabolical of their machinations were steps in which their victims either assisted in their own demise, or where they were tricked into believing lies told by their murderers.

“Is a blue work permit better than a yellow one?”

“They said we will be re-settled in the East. They would not waste us. We are a valuable work source.”

A city Judenrat (Jewish Council) would be provided with rations for only a fraction of the city’s Jewish population, these leaders often decided who would eat and who would starve. Council members were to deliver quotas of fellow Jews for deportation to the gas, or suffer death themselves.

Who will live? Who will die? Terrible questions!

Joe Klein, as a Jew, should have known this. At best, Klein succumbed to the phenomenon demonstrated by Dr. Stanley Milgram: People will do something, even harm another, if some person in authority says it in the interests of good, the majority, or even the victims themselves.

Final impressions?

Joe Klein was duped.

But he is not alone in history. The angels of death have worn hospital lab coats before. The Nazi Aktion T 4 euthanasia program bears a discomforting similarity to the Geisinger death model profiled in the Time article.

The 1939 German extermination program decided who would live, and who would die, based solely upon the opinions of three medical experts who noted their findings on a wholly objective questionnaire. Geisinger replaces the questionnaire with computer algorithms.

The questionnaires were distributed to mental institutions, hospitals, and other institutions caring for chronically ill patients. Patients deemed to be “life unworthy of life” (or for whom recovery was deemed futile) were either killed directly by phenol injections to the heart or by gradual starvation.

There is a difference.

The Nazi program killed for an aberrant ideology surrounding the superiority of an Aryan race. The Geisinger program kills for profits, bonuses, and for the state-sanctioned principle of “medical cost containment”.

I fear the Nazis are back…and this time they’re worse than ever.


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