I must confess that I'm quite puzzled about Sarah Palin and her celebrity status in our nation these days, perhaps not unlike the way I have been puzzled for some time now about our culture's awkwardness around death, grief, and transformation in general. There seems to be a great deal of ambivalence around how Americans deal with end-of-life issues; and Sarah Palin epitomizes this ambivalence:
On the one hand, in the spring of 2008, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska "issued a proclamation that stated the importance of end-of-life planning." (See editorial by Earl Blumenauer, "The Sorry Saga of those 'Death Panels'".) On the other hand, this summer, on August 7th, after the Obama Administration had decided to include a strong piece on end-of-life conversations in the Health Care Reform Bill, Palin joined the bandwagon opposing the Administration's Bill by using the term "death panels" on her Facebook where she stated: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."
Palin's statement was in no way based on the truth, or the actual bill. And yet, others joined this chorus referring to so-called "death panels". It seems that their purpose was simply to put the "fear of God" in people by drumming up some mis-truths around an issue that is already very sensitive and tender in our culture, thereby polarizing the issue and discrediting the authors of a very important and necessary bill.
Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, a wise teacher in the conscious aging arena, has stated that one of the reasons Americans are so awkward around the subject of death and dying is because we have "pathologized" death by taking it to the hospital. This is a statement that rings very true for me, as once a person is in the hospital here in the United States, we make it very difficult for them to die. American doctors and hospital staff are trained to keep people alive, often at all costs. And now, Palin and other politicians are making it even more difficult to maneuver this very important arena of end-of-life care by spreading false truths and rumors, based on fear and discomfort around a sensitive issue.
I do not have any simple answers. I do offer a book called THE LAST ADVENTURE OF LIFE: Sacred Resources for Living and Dying from a Hospice Counselor in which I share some of the lessons I've gleaned from the many hospice patients and families I've had the honor to work with. And I do believe that this work offers an antidote to the fear and misrepresentation that Palin and others have attempted to create in the death and dying arena.
My hope and prayer is that Americans will not let the fear that anyone is spreading out there in our society get into them such that we run away from a necessary and important conversation. I am grateful to hear that so far, the end-of-life issue is still in the proposed 1,000-page health care reform bill. And I am hopeful that we as a nation will continue an important dialogue around end-of-life care such that we can begin to unravel what we've done to death in our hospitals and bring it back into the natural cycle of life!
Blessings of Deep Hope and Joy, Dancing heart~~~
Here is a thoughtful article that Deepak Chopra has posted just a week ago: Sarah Palin: Fooling None of the People All of the Time.