Dollars & Health: Living wills, death panels and my dad

When I arrived at the hospital, my father lay unconscious in the intensive care unit. A staff member was able to waken him. He opened his eyes and, recognizing me, moved his hand toward mine. Then he quickly lapsed back into an unconscious state.

My father was 88 and had multiple health problems: emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and now, a second bout with pancreatitis, which had sent him again to a hospital. Years of tobacco and alcohol use had caught up with him, yet he had survived a stroke years before and was still living at home, by himself, and had no terminal diseases.

My brothers and I thought our father had a living will, but a call to his lawyer proved otherwise. So while he lay unresponsive, hooked up with an array of tubes, we discussed what he would want in medical care.

In other words, we became a family ''death panel'' of sorts. But not a government bureaucracy rationing health care to the sick and disabled, as envisioned by opponents of health care reform. The proposed legislation would pay doctors if a patient wanted to discuss end-of-life care, including a living will and hospice. It would be a voluntary consultation.