DC Trawler

NYT’s Bill Keller to terminal cancer patient: You’re doing it wrong

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For the past few years, a Connecticut woman named Lisa Adams has been chronicling her struggle with incurable breast cancer. She has her own site, lisabadams.com, and she’s built a small but loyal Twitter following as @AdamsLisa.

She uses this platform just like a lot of people do these days, talking about her day-to-day life. In her case, it’s necessarily about her treatments, managing her pain, finding moments of comfort and happiness, and trying to figure out what it all means. As anyone who has ever gone through a serious illness or injury can tell you, expressing yourself like this can be a very effective way of dealing with the frustration and despair of living inside a body that has betrayed you.

But as it turns out, Adams needs to knock it off. So says Bill Keller of the New York Times. Here he writes about Adams’ efforts:

In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.

Among doctors here, there is a growing appreciation of palliative care that favors the quality of the remaining life rather than endless “heroic measures” that may or may not prolong life but assure the final days are clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.) What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently…

When my wife, who had her own brush with cancer and who has written about Lisa Adams’s case for The Guardian, introduced me to the cancer blog, my first thought was of my father-in-law’s calm death. Lisa Adams’s choice is in a sense the opposite. Her aim was to buy as much time as possible to watch her three children grow up. So she is all about heroic measures…

Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers. On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.

Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said he cringes at the combat metaphor, because it suggests that those who choose not to spend their final days in battle, using every weapon in the high-tech medical arsenal, lack character or willpower.

“I’m the last person to second-guess what she did,” Goodman told me, after perusing Adams’s blog. “I’m sure it has brought meaning, a deserved sense of accomplishment. But it shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”

“I’m the last person to [fill in the blank],” says the asshole, before proceeding to very explicitly [fill in the blank].

The same goes for Keller. He couches all this nonsense in weaselly, passive-aggressive BS about respecting Adams’ choices and admiring her courage, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s telling this woman to just shut up and die already.

Expect to see a lot more of this as the human toll of Obamacare begins to grow. The same people who scoffed at the very idea of “death panels” will be telling you to just let Grandma go. It’s her time. There’s nothing medical science can do. (Well, there is, but she had to give up her “junk plan” and can’t afford it.)

Incidentally, you may have noticed that Keller linked to his wife Emma’s essay at the Guardian, tastefully headlined: “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” Here’s what you see now when you click that link:

This post has been removed pending investigation.

Presumably, investigators are on the lookout for the Kellers’ very souls.

Let this be a lesson to you, Americans. If something bad happens to you, think twice about expressing your thoughts and feelings about it using the latest communications technology. You could be in for a scolding, a public shaming, from your moral, ethical, and intellectual betters in the media.

Proceed with caution.

Tags : treacher
Jim Treacher