Respecting Mother’s wishes, and her lessons for healthcare

On July 19, my children and I formed a “death panel” to decide the fate of my mother, Millie Yatron, in her insurmountable battle against sepsis. She never lost consciousness. She knew we were trying valiantly to save her. No obstacle was too high, nor too costly.

My father, the late Rep. Gus Yatron (D-Pa.), had provided comfortably for Mother, including supplemental insurance. Government-run Medicare and supplemental insurance paid for everything. But on that final day, when Mother experienced multiple organ failure, no amount of insurance could save her. She lay silently with endless tubes entering and exiting her body. The hard reality that Mother was dying competed with our urgency to save her.

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Fighting an emotional riptide, our lifesaver was Mother’s medical directive. After the 2005 Terri Schiavo case, Mother established her wishes in the clarity of good health: If medical intervention could not save her life, she wished not to be maintained in a vegetative state.

Had Mother not designated a medical power of attorney, it would have fallen to hospital and insurance personnel to decide. Strangers. Mother’s doctors explained that they could intubate her, but she was too weak for subsequent medical procedures. Artificial ventilation would require continuous sedation, prolonging her death, not her life. Life as she knew it was gone.

We began the morphine drip and let her go peacefully, and with dignity, in accordance with her clearly prescribed wishes. Mother’s medical directive spared us the potential guilt of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s incendiary term “death panels,” and of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) inflammatory “pulling the plug on Grandmother.” Mother made her decisions without political partisanship and empowered us to decide, as she would have for herself.

Scare tactics carried out by political operatives intent on derailing reform serve to deny our citizenry the empowerment Mother claimed for herself. On July 19, Mother could no longer speak, but her voice was still heard.

In vigil, we told her we would remain by her side and bring her suffering to an end. The morphine eased the stress in her face and the panic in our hearts. We told her we loved her and knew she loved us. She stroked our hands. Her breaths grew soft. She opened her eyes, gazing into mine, looking through the prism of a lifetime. Stroking my hand one last time, she closed her eyes and drifted gently away.

Mother’s life began during the Great Depression. She was ever my father’s partner in lifelong public service. Before her short illness, she described herself as someone who included everyone and excluded no one. It’s time for our national health system to do the same.

Fairfax Station, Va.


Nuclear risk: prejudices

From Gilbert J. Brown, Ph.D., professor and coordinator, Nuclear Engineering Program, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Marvin Fertel of the Nuclear Energy Institute, in his Sept. 9 commentary “Nuclear power poised to help meet demands of climate change legislation,” brings out into the open what much of the Obama administration believes, but is very quiet about — that nuclear power today is the nation’s largest producer (70 percent) of clean electricity and that nuclear must grow substantially if we are to meet future CO2 emissions goals.

The risk in pending legislation is that old prejudices against nuclear will result in half-hearted measures aimed at only a handful of plants built, and even then at a snail’s pace. Nuclear is a non-carbon-emitting source and should see the same legislative advantages as solar and wind. Everyone agrees that the objective is to control climate change. We need to support and expedite all clean sources including, and especially, nuclear.

Lowell, Mass.


It takes a miracle

From Al Sartor

(Regarding article, “Obama sets stage for using budget maneuver to pass health reform,” Sept. 10.) I am afraid that the president has taken the business of being “The One” too seriously.

Obama is a great orator. He does the Sermon on the Mount very well. But unfortunately, he is not quite up to the distribution of the loaves and fishes of universal healthcare to the multitude of uninsured at no increase in costs or lessening of quality or availability to anyone.

We haven’t had a miracle of this magnitude in over 2,000 years.

Walnut Creek, Calif.