Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Well, somebody has to say it

Does America deserve freedom of speech?

I realize it's just my opinion, and I can voice it thanks to a long history of victories against those who would seek to suppress it, but I'm starting to think that this nation is too stupid to wield such an awesome power as the right of its people to enter freely into the war of ideas. I'm not saying the current state of ideas in this country is wrong because I disagree with the various positions. I'm saying it's wrong because the political conversation has been hijacked by bold-faced liars, cheats and opportunists -- and Americans are either unwilling or unable to understand truth from fiction. We are being held hostage by rhetoric that is not only blatantly false but repeated willfully by a network of media outlets and politicians who face no repercussions for their words.

Why is this happening? It's unhinged freedom of speech. Our most fundamental and important liberty is also killing this country. It's infuriating and hilarious, all at the same time (unless you still have even a shred of faith left in the American people -- then it's just infuriating).

I could cite as a broad example just about anything that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth on any given day, but allow me to address a specific piece of false information that Palin introduced into the war of ideas, one that was both disastrously misleading and arguably damaging to millions of people who are suffering from terminal diseases: the issue of palliative care.

Palliative care is a relatively new medical science, and it focuses on end-of-life decisions. When somebody is diagnosed with a terminal illness, such as pancreatic cancer, the option that most oncologists will support is to throw everything possible at the disease, despite the unlikelihood of being successful, and hope for the best.

Palliative care, on the other hand, takes a different tack. Patients are given the regular options that an oncologist would cover -- chemo, radiation, etc. -- but also are able to consult with doctors about how they wish to spend the rest of their time, how they wish to manage their pain and how they can deal with the various family, religious and legal issues associated with the potential end of their life. It's not throwing in the cards; it's acknowledging that the end might be near, and having an honest conversation about what that means to a terminal patient.

It makes fucking sense. And it's supported by science. A recent study showed that terminal patients who participated in palliative care lived longer and more pain-free. They also were happier, despite their dire circumstances.

Now let me take you back several months, because if you followed the health care debate at all, you've heard of palliative care -- just not in the rational, sane way that it should have been presented. Back then, Democrats inserted language into the bill that would provide funding for palliative care, and although it was such a minor aspect of the bill, it exploded as a key controversy during the debate.

That's because Palin, in a hysterical, rabid and disingenuous attempt to kill the legislation, wildly misinterpreted the wisdom of palliative care. She called it a "death panel." And the label stuck. So much so that Democrats stripped the provision from the bill to avoid all-out war.

War over what, you may ask? Nobody really knows. The logical connection between doctors talking with patients about end-of-life decisions and doctors deciding who is going to die is so disconnected from reality that it's hard to even fathom. What's even more hard to fathom is that Americans would believe such horseshit.

But Palin flapped her treacherous mouth, and Americans ate it up. Because they are idiots. It was our freedom of speech in action.

Am I suggesting we rescind our most honored tradition? Of course not. But in an age of instant replication of speech across a vast network of media, we really need some system of accountability. The fact that one person is able to lie -- and that lie is subsequently able to crush a legitimate movement toward better medical care -- just seems like an affront to what the Founders had in mind.

Or, alternatively, freedom of speech is working as intended, and this country has just gone completely insane. Maybe, just maybe, we should think long and hard about that.


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