Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocates

You asked, "Why?"

by Ron Panzer
President, Hospice Patients Alliance
unpublished June 2006
updated November, 26, 2010

People often call and ask, "Why?" They want to know why their loved one did not receive the care they had expected, why there are problems in our health care system? Why there were problems at the hospice, in particular.

And while there are many dedicated professionals working to provide the very best at the end-of-life, the complaints keep coming in here, to the state agencies, and to other patient advocacy organizations. We want to know, "why?"

We can pick up the newspaper, should we still be in the habit of purchasing it, and read on for hours at one sitting. Designed to entertain, to catch our attention and keep us wondering, the newspapers promise so much, and they do have many "very interesting" articles. Yet, when we're done, are we satisfied? Are we truly informed? And what problems are resolved through our reading? Are we lifted up to a higher place, inspired to be better men and women? Sometimes that is true, but unfortunately, often it is not.

The world remains as it once was, and years and generations go by; the same questions plague us. The same temptations lure us. The same struggles for power, possessions, land and resources plague the world, resulting in violence, even war. These bring in their wake unspeakable suffering, disease, poverty and starvation.

While some on the Left commonly line up and say that the financial crimes and exploitation of the rich and powerful are among the worst men can possibly do, others on the Right stand and condemn the lying and sexual practices such as homosexuality, pedophilia, and adultery. Some on the extreme of each side argue that what the opposition condemns should be glorified, taught in schools or copied, even legally protected and promoted.

Why some are bothered by one group of behaviors and are not bothered by the other category of behaviors is a strange but enduring characteristic of society, of the people who make up the society.

But even with all of the posturing on this side or that, our society no longer truly condemns "sin." It no longer even recognizes "sin." What is perceived as "wrong" is merely a reflection of how we may feel at the moment! That is an ever-shifting "standard," one that can only lead to confusion and anarchy within society as well as health care.

We have become overwhelmed with every sort of indulgence. Numb, fatigued, and desensitized by constant exposure, we no longer respond in shock to horrors large and small. We forget them as quickly as we learn of them. And rationalizations for every sort of behavior are offered by some of the most professionally "degreed" among us.

Long ago, I rejected the idea of "sin," and revolted at the idea of a God who judged me or others. But I learned that "sin" means, "missing the mark," going astray, losing the way to peace, violating His Will for us in this life. The idea of "sin" is not brought forth to condemn us, but to guide us to fulfillment: the only way our nature allows us to be truly content and happy. Like a map or street-sign, the idea of what is "sin" is meant to help and save us, not to frighten us or condemn us. It is simply a way of saying: "that way is not going to bring happiness, peace or goodness for us individually, for our loved ones, or society and the world as a whole." "Sin" is essentially choosing to go the wrong way, a way that leads to spiritual darkness, isolation, as well as all sorts of suffering.

But talking about "sin," is politically and societally "incorrect." You just don't do that! It's not an "easy" topic for modern discussion. We have "progressed" so far that we can't even mention it.

We have been told a great lie and have swallowed it whole: "There is no sin." "There is no hell." "There is no heaven or hell." "There is no God." And along with that comes acceptance of any and all behaviors (even crimes), "freedom" to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, and the end of a stable, moral, and yes, fulfilling foundation for all that follows. Secularization brings promotion and glorification of the sins. It never leads to happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas mentioned unnatural "pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and laziness" as the so-called seven deadly sins.

Our society encourages pride, misrepresenting it as "confidence," knowing that you are "cool," or being "together." It becomes arrogance, insensitivity and leads to so many foolish and destructive acts.

Our society encourages the fulfillment of one's greed, misrepresenting it as "success," yet however much one may acquire motivated by greed, happiness and peace will remain aloof.

Our society encourages the fulfillment of sexual desire misrepresenting it as "love," yet without real love and commitment, sex without the commitment of marriage yields heart-breaking disappointment, depression, sexually-transmitted diseases and death. And the children brought into this world outside of marriage and a stable family? They are more likely to suffer from poverty and all that comes with it. They are more likely to have so many problems. Unmarried single-mothers often struggle to make ends meet and are overworked and stressed out. Having two loving spouses working together to raise the children makes it easier on everyone. Loving, stable family environments have consistently been shown to have the best outcomes for raising children. Yet, "progressive" society and the media encourage exactly the opposite.

Some in society encourage anger, portraying uncontrolled violence as the "norm." Violent videogames desensitize children to casually accept beatings, rapes, thefts, murders and rebellious disrespect and violence toward the police or others in authority. This disrespect and rejection of common standards of morality destabilizes society, making us even more dependent upon government in the end.

Our food industry encourages gluttony, encouraging us to eat processed food that may actually be harmful to our health. We are encouraged to eat until we can eat no more, leading to widespread obesity that robs years of life and the quality of life from those who fall prey to the hypnotic messages. Even though there are occasional voices of sanity urging moderation, powerful, manipulative messages are continually communicated to us through advertising of all sorts.

Many TV shows, movies, books and songs encourage envy, telling us that if we "want it," we should go out and "get it," even if what we want is someone else's wife, husband, car or wallet. "Desperate Housewives" demonstrate the willingness to use their envy as a guide to life, while disrespecting their husbands, families, friends and neighbors.

Our society rewards laziness, paying and protecting some who will not work at all and some who will not work well or much at all. While welfare was supposed to be a safety net to prevent the poor from suffering starvation, homelessness and utter poverty, it has become, for some, a way of life rewarding those who find a way not to work. And, while unions have served, and can serve, as an extremely important force to promote employee safety, to improve working conditions, and to promote fair wages, some unions have become too powerful. Many have heard the stories of unions that encourage their members not to work "too hard" and that protect employees who may be incompetent.

There is nothing wrong with taking an honest pride in one's work, for example, while giving credit to God, one's teachers and parents who helped you achieve what you have achieved. There is nothing wrong with having the necessities of life, or enjoying the expression of love within marriage. There is nothing wrong with anger when it motivates one to protect the vulnerable and weak. There is nothing wrong with the enjoyment of food and the other pleasures of life within moderation.

Some PhDs, counselors, doctors and attorneys line up like leeches ready to suck the last drop of decency out of our society. Some guide the youth into ethical confusion, acceptance of anarchy and a lack of respect for the achievements and values of those who have come before. Some promote promiscuity while not warning of the consequences that surely follow. Some instruct the young that it is "ok" to kill the unborn baby, lying to the mothers and telling them that the baby is not "a baby" or "a person." Others use their legal talents to help corporate executives escape prosecution for violations of the law. Some experts extol the virtues of sexually deviant practices and encourage the disintegration of the family, marriage, fidelity, even respect for life itself. "Whatever you want" is the sum of their "wisdom."

And what is the fruit of such "wisdom?" Many of us choose not to nurture the extended family. Individuals choose not to maintain even a "traditional" nuclear family. Individuals choose to cheat in order to get ahead, whether in schools, college or in business. Individuals choose to bully others in order to get ahead. Individuals choose to kill their own babies in the womb. Individuals choose to kill the vulnerable at the end-of-life. Individuals choose (in the banking industry) to charge exorbitant rates of interest on loans, thereby enslaving those who borrow, even to the point where borrowers are financially destroyed, bringing harm to their families and their children. And in some cases, people motivated by their greed choose to buy when they have no income to support their purchases. These choices are wrong. However, many in our society continue to make these choices.

The secularization of society has steadily eroded, much as dripping water wears away rock, every pillar serving as a foundation for our society. While men and women are much the same as they have ever been, there is no longer a reliable societal affirmation of moral and ethical norms. A rejection of traditional values has seeped into virtually every niche of society, whether industry, government, the media, and even many churches. If our time will be remembered for anything, the past forty years or so will be known for a brazen rejection of societal standards that were firmly based within the Judeo-Christian outlook, and for the most part, many other cultures around the world as well.

University professors now excoriate "conservative" students who espouse once common moral and religious views. They mark them down for daring to disagree with the popular culture. The media occupies itself more with creating stories shaped to provide a particular view rather than with simply reporting the news. Politicians, addicted to their own power as always, sell their souls, for a price, to retain their power, while unnamed bureaucrats exert pressure on all of us to move in the direction government is promoting (and that direction is not "traditional," or of faith, in any sense). Whatever the industry, many elected officials protect the industries that "lobby," i.e., "buy" them, betraying their duty to monitor those same industries and prevent or stop their illegal practices. For a price, many elected officials have betrayed the people of our nation who they are supposed to serve and protect. Have you noticed how many elected officials become wealthy, somehow, in the process?

Government, contrary to the impression those in power wish us to have, remains a relentless machine run mostly by nameless yet powerful bureaucrats, growing ever bigger, stronger and, at times, oppressive. Elected officials may turn their back on the people who put them there, forgetting the promises made while posing as "servants" of the people.

With the rejection of traditional values, is it any wonder that at the end-of-life, the secular values of family members around the dying have a terrible impact upon their lives? Once the people and physicians alike reject respect for the sanctity of life, it is not even "a short walk" to where the imposition of death is contemplated and accomplished. Many do not know that a large number of medical schools have abandoned the practice of having their medical students affirm the Hippocratic Oath. Once physicians no longer affirm the Hippocratic Oath (that prohibits a physician from giving any lethal agent), is it surprising that many physicians are willing to do exactly that?

Is it any wonder that I have seen grown children of the dying standing at the bedside arguing over "who gets what" while the dying sadly look on, no longer able to speak even one word?

Is it any wonder that we regularly are told about adult children of the dying weaseling their way into having the power to control the patient's affairs: bank accounts, investments, home and their very life ... and then manipulating their death in a hospice when the patient was not imminently dying?

Is it any wonder, that some hospices are exclusively steering the bodies of the dead into one particular funeral home for cremation so that the evidence of any crimes are destroyed? Or so that kickbacks can be paid?

End-of-life care providers are not immune from the failings of our society; they are a reflection of who we are collectively. So, for all those who asked, "Why?" now we can understand. And, we can understand what must change for end-of-life care to truly be reformed. We can understand what is necessary to renew the respect for the individual spark of life given to each one of us by the Lord.

The end-of-life care industry needs reform. Those end-of-life care providers that have integrity and respect the lives of their patients know about the abuses at other provider agencies. They are horrified, as I am, about the abuses. Through the years, they have confirmed the need for reform. They, and all of us, must unite and work together to reform the practice of hospice and end-of-life care.

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