Huckabee: After reform, Kennedy would be told, "Take pain pills and die"

The former Arkansas governor adds more fuel to the euthanasia myths

Published August 28, 2009 9:45PM (EDT)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said on his radio show Thursday that politicizing the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy "defies good taste." Apparently, he meant that to apply only to Democrats who are pushing for passage of healthcare reform, because he then went on to say this, as reported by Huffington Post's Sam Stein:

"[I]t was President Obama himself who suggested that seniors who don't have as long to live might want to just consider taking a pain pill instead of getting an expensive operation to cure them," said Huckabee. "Yet when Sen. Kennedy was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 77, did he give up on life and go home to take pain pills and die? Of course not. He freely did what most of us would do. He choose an expensive operation and painful follow-up treatments. He saw his work as vitally important and so he fought for every minute he could stay on this earth doing it. He would be a very fortunate man if his heroic last few months were what future generations remember him most for."

Of course, what Huckabee said about the Democratic plan -- and, for that matter, about what Obama had said -- was completely untrue. What Obama actually said was quite different:

I don’t want bureaucracies making those decisions. But understand that those decisions are already being made in one way or another. If they’re not being made under Medicare and Medicaid, they’re being made by private insurers...

[W]hat we can do is make sure that at least some of the waste that exists in the system that’s not making anybody’s mom better, that is loading up on additional tests or additional drugs that the evidence shows is not necessarily going to improve care, that at least we can let doctors know, and your mom know, that you know what, maybe this isn’t going to help, maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.

Those are decisions that are being made by doctors and patients every day now, especially when it comes to terminal cancer. Unfortunately, in many cases there comes a point where the drawbacks to treatments like surgery and chemotherapy outweigh the potential benefits -- or where they're just not working well, and the decision's made to start focusing on making the patient comfortable in their final days. And, in fact, according to the New York Times' Mark Leibovich, Kennedy himself made a decision like that earlier this year. Leibovich writes, "By this spring, according to friends, it was clear that the tumor had not been contained; new treatments proved ineffective and Mr. Kennedy’s comfort became the priority."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Mike Huckabee Ted Kennedy War Room