Ezekiel Emanuel is back. A major architect of Obamacare as a health advisor to the Obama White House who is the brother of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was dubbed “Dr. Death” by Obamacare critics for his role in developing what Republicans called “Death Panels” as part of the plan.
The bioethicist re-emerged this spring as an advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden’s “Public Health Advisory Committee” to which Biden named him just as health officials, the media, and politicians were realizing that the threat from the coronavirus that had made its way here from China is real.
Emanuel was an interesting choice because he has been a longtime advocate of health care rationing in general and withholding care from the elderly in particular. His 1974 article for The Atlantic expressed the hope that he would die at 75 because living longer just isn’t worth it either to society or the elderly themselves. Better, he argued, to recognize the inevitable and check out or at least not expect younger taxpayers to help keep one alive when the elderly are of little or no use to themselves or society.
In many ways his advice back then today reads as both creepy and prescient. If we had done earlier this year what Mr. Biden’s advisor had recommended back then, the death toll would have been far worse than what we have suffered through in the last few months. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo policy of ordering nursing homes to admit elderly patients with the Coronavirus seems to reflect Emanuel’s thinking as the policy led to thousands of elderly deaths in New York.
Consider for a moment what Emanuel advised about withholding health care from the elderly. After condemning resorting to heroic measures to keep those over seventy-five alive, he asks “What about the simple stuff? Certainly if there were to be a flu pandemic, a younger person who has yet to live a complete life ought to get the vaccine or any viral drugs.” He went on, “A big challenge is antibiotics for pneumonia or skin and urinary infections. Antibiotics are cheap and largely effective in curing infections. It is really hard for us to say no …. But … unlike the decays associated with chronic conditions, death from these infections is quick and relatively painless. So, no to antibiotics.”
In the article and subsequent interviews, Emanuel demonstrated again and again that he had earned the label his critics had pinned on him during the Obamacare debate. “Dr. Death” is also a leading supporter of legalizing “assisted” suicide especially for those who have lived too long gone.
One can only wonder what Emanuel thinks about his 77-year-old candidate when he has written of others of like age that “Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older … Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.”
One might have expected him to argue once it became clear that the coronavirus is most lethal to the very elderly he thinks ought to die anyway that we should just let them go rather than stockpiling ventilators and trying to find ways to help them survive the weeding out of the less valuable of us. Maybe he did advise the former Vice President that the virus might prove to be a Godsend by ridding us of the elderly and marginally healthy so that health care money could be spent on more valuable members of society, but given Biden’s own age maybe he decided to save that advice for another day.
Instead, he has morphed into an advocate of locking down everything regardless of the economic consequences even as many states are haltingly moving to reopen before their economies completely collapse. He is doubling down. Earlier this month, Emanuel convinced more than a hundred doctors to join him in signing an open letter arguing for a national lockdown for eighteen months or until a cure or effective vaccine is found. The letter, written for the progressive “Center for American Progress,” urged a ban on interstate travel, closing those restaurants that have reopened, almost all public gatherings and strict enforceable mandatory masking requirements to be imposed both inside and outside. He and his fellow letter signers admit this will prove costly, but say we have no choice until a vaccine is available. They don’t address the question of whether once available it should be withheld from the elderly, but sometimes silence is the best approach.
The former Vice President must be thinking “slower” if he hasn’t yet thrown Ezekiel overboard.