President Obama has no greater friend and supporter than Newsweek editor Evan Thomas. Actually, it’s not really accurate to describe Evan Thomas as a friend of the President; he’s more like a worshiper. It was Evan Thomas who managed what we all thought was an impossible feat: He one-upped Chris Matthews. Matthews had famously said that he felt a “tingling going up and down his leg” when he heard candidate Obama speak. Few thought it was possible to exceed that for adulation. But Evan Thomas said that Obama at Normandy “hovered above all like a God.” You’d have to go to North Korea to find more fulsome praise of a dear leader.
So, when Evan Thomas writes a column titled “The Case for Killing Granny” in a major news weekly, people should take notice. Thomas writes with evident feeling about his late mother. Suffering terribly from emphysema, Thomas’ mother wanted to die. She did not want the life-extending treatment that her doctors thought was best for her.
Thomas wants us to face up to reality. “Rationing,” he writes, is the R word that all politicians are afraid to breathe. Then he says: “The need to spend less money on the elderly at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate...Americans are afraid not just of dying, but of talking and thinking about death. Until Americans learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome, our health-care system will remain unfixable [emphasis added.]”
His column concludes with a moving and memorable passage. His mother waved off extraordinary treatment, signaled that she wanted to go to hospice to die, that she did not want to remain in the hospital ICU where she was hooked up to monitors and “all the tubes and wires.”
The column is really not about killing Granny at all. Evan Thomas’ mother’s decision was perfectly in accord with the best of ethical decision-making for end-of-life situations. None of us would second-guess Mrs. Thomas’ decision to forego further or futile treatment.
So why does Evan Thomas write such an incendiary column? Why does he insist on smoking in the paint locker? Why does he call his column a case for killing Granny? What happened to his mother—as he describes it—was not euthanasia. It was not voluntary euthanasia; it was certainly not involuntary euthanasia. It was surely remote from the elder killing that his column’s title suggests. His mother could have had her right to reject further treatment respected in every hospital I know. Certainly, that right is honored at Catholic hospitals.