Soylent Greenbacks: David Brooks Wants Some People to Die for Debt Reduction

To help solve the debt crisis, the best thing I can do is die. Maybe not right now, but certainly before I put too much strain on the public purse—and since I’m 74, that means pretty soon. If I should be lucky enough to contract a fatal disease, I can do the right thing by eschewing expensive medical care that might extend my life. If that doesn’t happen, and I enter a slow and costly decline, then in the interests of the greater good I should take the Hemingway solution.

That’s pretty much the message of David Brooks’s column in today’s New York Times. “This fiscal crisis is about many things,” he writes, “but one of them is our
inability to face death — our willingness to spend our nation into bankruptcy
to extend life for a few more sickly months.”

Here’s how Brooks comes by his position: To begin with, he says: “The fiscal crisis is driven largely by health care costs.” Never mind two futile wars and ten years of tax relief for millionaires—it’s primarily health care that’s driving us into national penury.

Furthermore, Brooks argues, the reason for these soaring health care costs is that very old and very sick people insist on clinging on to their miserable lives, when they ought to be civic-minded enough to kick off. It’s not the insurance companies, which reap huge profits by serving as useless, greed-driven middlemen. It’s not the drug companies, which are making out like bandits with virtually no government regulation. It’s not the whole corrupt, overpriced system of medicine-for-profit, which delivers the 37th best health care in the world, according to the WHO, at more than twice the cost of the best system (France). No. It’s all about us greedy geezers. We’re the ones who are placing an untenable burden on the younger, heartier citizenry, with our selfish desire to live a little longer.

Brooks cites the usual figures: “A large share of our health care spending is devoted to ill patients in the last phases of life,” he writes, and Alzheimer’s patients will soon cost us hundreds of billions. He continues: “Obviously, we are never going to cut off Alzheimer’s patients and leave them out on a hillside.” (Thanks, Dave.) “We are never coercively going to give up on the old and ailing.” Nonetheless, Brooks hopes than many “old and ailing” people will make the choice made by Dudley Clendinen, a man suffering from A.L.S., who wrote a moving essay in the Times about his decision to end his life before the disease takes its full course and renders him “a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self.”

I have great respect for Clendinen’s decision. As I’ve written before in Mother Jones, I am a big supporter of what these days is called “choice in dying” or “death with dignity”—each person’s right to decide when and where and in what
circumstances they will die. But I don’t want anyone else making those decisions for me, or telling me when the time is right—not an insurance company or a Medicare bureaucrat, not Barack Obama or John Boehner, and certainly not
David Brooks. I have every intention of being my own one-man death panel. But I won’t be persuaded to die a moment sooner than I want to just because it might
save some money–money that could easily be saved by far more equitable and less draconian means.

Brooks writes that “it is hard to see us reducing health care inflation seriously unless people and their families are willing to do what Clendinen is doing —confront death and their obligations to the living.” But why is it “hard to see us reducing health care inflation” any other way? Because conservatives like Brooks don’t believe in challenging the profit-driven health care system, and the people who pass these days for liberals lack the moxie to stand up to them.

Based on models from countries like France and Canada, we could bring about whopping savings in health care expenditures through a single payer system without rationing or compromising the quality of care. Short of this, we could opt for much more regulation and still save more money than we could by pulling the plug on every geezer in the land.

If I have any “obligation to the living,” it’s to leave them with a better health care system than we have now—a health care system that values all human life above profits. But I know that’s not likely to happen before my death—which, if I listen to Brooks, could be right around the corner.


18 responses to “Soylent Greenbacks: David Brooks Wants Some People to Die for Debt Reduction

  1. I sincerely hope a copy of this first class apraisal on the workings of Brooks mind,is firmly placed into his hands with the signitures of the many millions who know what thruth is, and present a patition of complaint to the ass, who has the bare faced neck to write such a article but, more so the editor who should have taken it as it was meant, a desparate individual grasping at straws, rather than have the spine to put the blame put were it so rightly belong’s. Brooks should be reminded it is the older people who have funded the system after many decades of work. It most certainly is not Brooks who has yet earnt a pension or has the brains to work out that 2 and 2 come to four. Thank you for this very valid and correct apraisal, lets just hope just half the fools who hold such views as Brooks does can read this responce and put some brain power into the writing on the wall if they cant do that , then they can join the Bankers and go to hell.


    Brooks is a moron people are going to be living to a 1000 years old in a just few years.

  3. Why don’t the bankers commit harakiri, an honorable act of suicide, in atonement for their crimes and bequeath the assets and and bonuses to funding a free health care system?
    How thoroughly corrupt society has become when grand theft is overlooked when committed by the wealthy, who are then bailed out by the tax payers, and some dim wit journalist then suggest the same tax payers who have contributed to those taxes all their lives, should do the honorable thing, by dying. Sure, we’ll bail the rich thieves out, then die, to save money for a government that didn’t have the balls to convict them and seize their assets.
    Does Brooks have parents? Bet they will receive the best medical treatment no matter what their age.

  4. We need integrative health care. Natural health modalities would be helpful and probably save a lot of money. Not something ever considered in hospitals, in in gov’t talks. Integrative med is not covered by insurance companies.

  5. I could not of said that any better myself and be so correct.Thank you for the great article…

  6. Robin Andersen

    wow, this guy is an idiot. So why stop just with older people? How about all the money spent on preemies? How about all the drug rehabs and overdoses? After all, what are these people doing for society? and, hell, why don’t we just shoot people with broken legs? How about people born with birth defects? What if you get a headache or a cold? when you start singling out groups that “should” die, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in one of those groups. what an idiot…

  7. Anna Churchill

    Ridgeway rocks!

  8. Ahhh, begs the question: how old are you, David? Got any maladies lurking in your closet? Any family history of something we should note in your medical file?

    Be careful what you wish for, Brooks. Those are usually the things that come around and bite you on the ass.

  9. Yeah sure thing Brooks. Next he will no doubt want those of us who are disabled to be “put down” also. Screw that Brooks. We will NOT go calmly nor quietly.
    One question for Brooks, did he ever serve in the military? How many disabled veterans is this moron willing to have “put down”?

  10. Anything biting Bobo in the ass would probably be inflicting a fatal wound since Bobo is all ass.

  11. Agree with the article generally, but the standard “US is 37th in healthcare” meme rears its fallacious head. I’m neither a fan of our system as is, nor a fan of big pharma and the AMA, but I AM a fan of truth versus spin and the 37th bit is spin.

  12. According to a 60-Minutes piece, in 2008 Medicare spent 50 billion dollars covering doctors and hospital fees for the last 2 months of people’s lives (most typically in an ICU). Questions of CBS’ accuracy aside, we spend a ton of cheddar paying for people to die slowly and in a pain/drug-induced haze. Here in my home state of Michigan we locked up a physician for attempting to assist terminally ill human beings check out with dignity and in peace.

    There is something to the idea of allowing people the option to self-terminate thus avoiding both the pain and expense (cash and familial suffering) associated with such an inevitability. Interestingly I am about to see it all first hand as my aunt was recently diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. I wish she had the option to pull the plug when it becomes to much to bear. But, we don’t want to talk about what that means…really. So I guess I’ll go beat myself in the head with a Bible until the pain goes away.

  13. Tad Clemmons

    I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Obama and will again (and believe he will prevail).
    But I agree with Brooks–prolonging a miserable life in decline is stupid and shows a lack of faith in God–we, and the medical profession, play God by prolonging a life that is trying to end its appointed time. Our view of death is so anti-life. No one gets out of life alive–nor animals either. What people do to prolong their pets’ lives is outrageous. It’s for them, not their pets.
    Death is a passage, like birth, in the long string of universal consciousness.
    Of course we should do the choosing if it doesn’t happen naturally. If I had ALS I would want to pass with dignity rather than increasingly declining increments. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be kept as the living dead with feeding tubes and medications that promote sinility and alzheimer’s–like most of the aging population.

  14. While the Soylent Green approach is currently being thrown around for the “elderly” and those who might have their suffering curtailed, I’m expecting a rise in “blame the victim” economics as things progress both here in The United States and in Europe. For example, as I am a Veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired from the Army early due to my injuries sustained in combat, there is a queer logic in the lack of care being provided for those Veterans most prone to committing suicide (check the statistics; they’re frightening). You don’t have to look very far to see that the Army / Marines aren’t doing a good job treating the worst off men and women, and I suspect that the VA will be next to have the bright light of truth shown on how much it has failed to do what was promised (they no longer have the “we’re not fully funded crutch” to use as an excuse, and yet care hasn’t improved for the worst of those psychologically scarred).

    When duty and responsibility become bedfellows with the economics of expensive continuing care, who wins?

  15. You know what this current crowd of GOP liars want is to turn the United Sates into China, where only a few giant corporations run things, they own the factories, the apartments, the grocery stores, the gas stations, the newspaper and magazine publications, the radio stations, the television stations and you pay them and they get all the benefits, and if you do not like it go jump off cliff. Well some Chinese workers seeing that as individuals that they cannot progress have done just that by committing suicide.

    The current crowd of GOP liars want to steal Medicare from the elderly, they want to abolish a woman’s right to choose and have control over her own body, they want to abolish collective bargaining rights for our Unions, and on top of it all they want to blame the poor, the middle class and the public sector workers for a recession that the GOP created (Thanks to the Dullard “W”), while their beloved “Fat cats” continue to pay themselves exorbitant salaries, bonuses, fringe benefits.

    The GOP is like the “Chicken Littles” always saying that the “Sky is Falling”, like the same ones that were the “Chicken Hawks” (“W” Wars), big talk no courage.

    The United States, favors creativity wherever it can be found. We’re apostles of prosperity and defenders of the free exchange of ideas and when more people in more countries are free to rise, to invent, to communicate, to dissent, it’s not the doom of United States leadership, its the triumph of the American way.

    Generations have worked hard and sacrificed much for the country to reach this point (individuals and our Unions that represented our poor, the middle class and public sector workers), and with further hard work and sacrifice (along with our relentless self-doubt) the United States will rise again, we do not tire and we are coming back, no matter what Fox news and their GOP “Chicken Littles” lackies keep saying about our nation. The win in New York was the beginning but the next will be Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and later the other states of our nation, Never Bet Against the United States, watch out GOP, we are coming for you!

  16. Browsing “Time Goes By”, I’ve been checking out some of the sites in her latest list of “approved blogs” . Starting at the end of the list, I got to yours after perusing and losing five before yours and yours is definitely a keeper. The information the information about the Nordic Nazi was terrific.
    I’ll be back for more.

  17. Keep up the good work . Do you have a facebook link so that I can share vyou with others ?

  18. I’m only 50. This stuff is real.
    I have so far got myself set up as to not rely on Govt. for Anything.
    Of Course I guess I will keep paying my Taxes.
    Or just move into my Motorhome. And Travel. Yep I like that.
    to the Prolonging Death comment. DNR
    My 86 year old Dad Has it, My Mom Had it. I will have it. If its bad enough I have it written what to do. Pronto.

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