Obama's Grandmother and End-of-Life Care Choices

Recently at Pajamas Media, philosophy professor Edward Halper used remarks by Obama from an interview with David Leonhardt published May 3, 2009, in the New York Times Magazine, plus an experience with his own father, to charge that health care practitioners and hospitals have "an agenda that they pursue aggressively: the speedy demise of the severely demented" and that hospitals are "practicing or urging euthanasia."

Prof. Halper approvingly cited hip replacement surgery performed on Obama's 86-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, as an example of the aggressive care that everyone should receive (apparently without regard to their individual health history or their own wishes), care that Obama coveted for his own grandmother but may deny to others under his health care plan.

Halper is wrong to say that if Obama's grandmother had been refused hip replacement surgery it would have been tantamount to euthanasia, or even just really mean.

In the interview, Obama explained that his grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, apparently in September 2008, and told she could last anywhere from three to nine months, i.e., long enough to see the outcome of the election and maybe even the inauguration. Then two or three weeks later, in mid-October, she had a stroke, which caused her to fall and break her hip.

Obama said his grandmother was told, "Because of the weakness of your heart, if you have an operation on your hip there are certain risks that -- you know, your heart can't take it. On the other hand, if you just sit there with your hip like this, you're just going to waste away and your quality of life will be terrible."

"And she elected to get the hip replacement," Obama told the Times reporter, "and was fine for about two weeks after the hip replacement, and then suddenly just -- you know, things fell apart."