Being a Judge on a Health Care Death Panel


Being a Judge on a Health Care Death Panel

I have never determined whether anyone would live or die, which I consider a gaping hole in my résumé. So when I heard a rumor that the government was creating a death panel to determine which sick people get to receive medical care, I knew I had to be on it.

I am not an obvious choice for any panel that doesn’t involve amateur performers and a large gong. But you need me on your death panel precisely because, unlike politicians and doctors, I can admit that we already have death panels; they just prefer to go by the name insurance companies. Some people get rejected by the death panels because of pre-existing conditions, lifetime-spending caps or drug co-payments they can’t afford. Others die because they are freelancers and don’t have insurance, so they don’t go to doctors. Others might not get the coverage they need because they wrote a column that called insurance companies death panels. Instead of sorting through stacks of forms, I’ll set my death panel behind huge wooden desks in a big empty room like the audition scene in Flashdance. I know this will make it hard for the sickest people to attend, and that will make my first cut much easier. I will green-light medical intervention on four criteria: cost, likelihood of success, years of life saved and a person’s awesomeness. For example, we’d all shell out to keep Justin Timberlake going for another 50 years, but we probably wouldn’t kick in much to spot Michael Vick an extra four months. And we can all agree that $6 million is a pretty good deal to make Lee Majors bionic again. Though I do want to stick with the name death panel, we will handle all forms of medicine, including plastic surgery. Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore, yes; Joan Rivers, no. And while there will be a lot fewer MRIs covered, hair-waxing will be free. We will be able to afford that because much of the cost of health care will be offset by selling the television rights to our panel. If ratings lag, I am fully prepared to appoint Paula Abdul, although I’m aware that this might raise our prescription-drug costs. My main challenge in setting up the panel will be getting the public to accept that there’s a limited amount of health care to ration. To figure out my marketing plan, I called an Eskimo, since everyone thinks Eskimo are adorable despite the fact that they sent old people out to sea on ice floes. If we tried that instead of sending them to Florida, people would hate the Jews even more. I met Nasuk — who was a delegate from Alaska at the 2008 Democratic National Convention — while riding a train in Denver one morning. She showed me some photos of her family eating whale. It turns out you do not want to look at a family eating whale when you are hungover.The first thing I learned from talking to Nasuk is that calling someone an Eskimo isn’t cool, since some believe it’s a term for raw-meat eater. That sounded pretty bad until I realized it’s exactly what yuppie meant in the 1980s. A proud Inupiat, Nasuk said that when her people were hunter-gatherers in the freezing North Slope, they sometimes had to leave behind the weak and elderly. “My understanding is that elders would voluntarily stay behind. It wouldn’t have been a cruel practice. It would have been an acceptance of ‘I’m dying. Let me be on my way,'” she said. Which is exactly how I’ll put it on my death panel: “We’re leaving you to be on your way out of this superexpensive hospital bed.” The idea that the not-Eskimo murdered their elders, Nasuk said, is absurd. The elderly, she said, are, in fact, rarely questioned and receive the first fish caught and animal hunted. “I don’t know why a lot of stories are told about Alaska,” she said. “Like that you guys kiss with your noses” I suggested. “Yeah, we kiss with our noses!” she said, informing me that I had picked the one not-Eskimo rumor that was true. Feeling even more stupid, I mentioned how dumb it was that we think they have tons of names for snow. Nasuk told me that her native language does indeed have many names for snow. I totally think they kill their old people. So Nasuk is definitely going to be on my panel, along with me, Abdul, Donald Trump and, because of the aesthetic plastic-surgery decisions, Tyra Banks. And while our triage will shorten some lives, we’ll lengthen and improve many more. But if Americans would rather take a phony moral high ground instead of admitting that there are a limited number of organs, specialists, equipment, medicine and money, then I’ll have to live with not being a panelist. And to make myself feel better, I’m going to use my health insurance to see an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a psychologist and a Pilates instructor. Watch Joel Stein in TIME’s video “Getting Botox at Home.”
See pictures of health care protesters on LIFE.com.

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