The Left’s Disdain for the Will to Live

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


unknownaLisa Bonchek Adams is a 43-year-old woman with three children and Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. In the seven years since she was first diagnosed, Adams has dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to chronicling her battle with the disease, via hundreds of thousands of tweets and a blog. In two columns that offer great insight into the progressive mindset, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, and his wife, Emma Gilbey Keller, have taken Adams to task for having the audacity to prolong her own life, and publicly write about her efforts to do so. As far as these two are concerned, Adams isn’t dying quickly enough, or privately enough, to suit their sensibilities.

In a column titled “Heroic Measures,” Bill Keller acknowledges that Adams has an audience of several thousand who are caught up in her “unsparing narrative of mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies and scans, pumps and drains and catheters, grueling drug trials and grim side effects, along with her posts on how to tell the children, potshots at the breast cancer lobby, poetry and resolute calls to ‘persevere.’” Bill further notes that lately, due to the fact that the cancer has “colonized” just about every part of Adams’ body with the exception of her brain, “her optimism has become a little less unassailable.”

One might be tempted to wonder what purpose might be served by any criticism of any cancer patient’s optimism, but Keller is more than up to the task:

In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.

Among doctors here, there is a growing appreciation of palliative care that favors the quality of the remaining life rather than endless “heroic measures” that may or may not prolong life but assure the final days are clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.) What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently. One intriguing lung cancer study even suggests that patients given early palliative care instead of the most aggressive chemotherapy not only have a better quality of life, they actually live a bit longer.

Keller’s father-in-law was 79 years old when he died and he chose to do so. Since he was dying in Britain, he was put on the Liverpool Pathway, a procedure designed to provide dying patients with hospice-like care in a hospital setting. That would be the same Liverpool Pathway condemned by government ministers as a “national disgrace” following an investigation that revealed patients were the victims of “tick box” treatment further characterized as “uncaring, rushed and ignorant.”

An extensive investigation by the Daily Mail uncovered the motives behind the plan, noting that cash incentives were provided to hospitals to hit target numbers for patients on the Pathway. As a result patients on the pathway endured “poor care, appalling communications and … a lack of attention or compassion,” and, as the inquiry revealed, “heartbreaking accounts of people desperately sucking at sponges used to moisten their mouths.”

Nonetheless, the “trench warfare” in which Lisa Bonchek Adams is engaged, much of which is dedicated to spending as much with her children as possible, irritates Keller. He notes that when he was first introduced to Adams’ blog, “my first thought was of my father-in-law’s calm death. Lisa Adams’s choice is in a sense the opposite,” he contends. Yet he gratuitously concedes that her decision to “treat her terminal disease as a military campaign has worked for her,” and that her “defiance has also been good for Memorial Sloan-Kettering,” because she has been willing to be a research subject, a category of patients whose numbers are in short supply.

Keller still considers such efforts a bridge too far. “Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers,” he writes. “On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.”

Without citing a single example of anyone who characterized his father-in-law’s decision as a failure, Keller enlists the support of Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine to buttress his contention. Goodman makes the same generalization, contending that Adams’ blog shouldn’t be “unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”

As insensitive as this effort is, Keller’s wife Emma more than matches it. In a column titled “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” Emma notes her ongoing fascination with Adams, especially as her condition declined. “I couldn’t stop reading – I even set up a dedicated @adamslisa column in Tweetdeck – but I felt embarrassed at my voyeurism. Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfless? Why am I so obsessed?”

Perhaps Emma Keller would be better served by addressing a level of self-absorption so profound that she wonders aloud whether Adams should have some sort of restriction placed on her narrative, lest “too much information” upset Keller’s seemingly delicate sensibilities. Yet even as she wonders, she manages to criticized Adams for not providing enough information. “She’ll tell you all about her pain, for example, but precious little about her children or husband and what they are going through,” writes Keller. “She describes a fantastic set up at Sloan-Kettering, where she can order what she wants to eat at any time of day or night and get as much pain medication as she needs from a dedicated and compassionate ‘team’, but there is no mention of the cost.”

Emma Keller’s column was removed from the Guardian website “pending investigation.” It seems that the woman who was concerned that Adams was sharing “TMI,” quoted an exchange of direct messages with Adams absent her knowledge or permission. Doing so is a violation of journalistic ethics.

The best criticism of Bill Keller’s column was provided by Adams herself. “The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR,” she tweeted.

The Atlantic columnist Megan Garber takes on Emma Keller, noting that “there is a nicely efficient way to quash her own anxieties about Adams’s tweets: Stop receiving them. Unfollow Adams. Mute her. Excise and/or exorcise her story. Problem, such as it is, solved.”

She then explains why that would be unlikely. “To ignore Adams would be to foreclose the possibility of extruding her experience into pliable column material—and to reject the casual entitlement that converts lived suffering into moral questioning,”  she explains. Garber further notes how both Bill’s and Emma’s efforts are aimed at taking Adams’ personal experience and extrapolating it into a “broader, more succulent truth.”

She takes them forcefully to task for that effort. “Adams herself makes no claim to universality, or to ethical authority, or to any kind of symbolism about The Way We Live Now,” writes Garber. “It is the journalists—hungry for new insights, thirsty for new trends—who are saddling her with the freight of moral implication and then judging her for the audacity they infer. It is a remarkable trick. It is also a cruel one.”

There is little doubt that the Kellers are guilty as charged. But Garber misses the bigger point. Even as both Kellers frame their concerns in different ways, the one constant in both columns is the authors’ concerns with the costs of keeping Adams alive. Or more to the point, the costs of keeping people alive in general, something Bill likens to a war of attrition that assures one’s final days are “clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.)” His wife seems more concerned that cost of Adams treatment remains a secret, likely due to the reality that the “fantastic treatment” Adams is getting is unavailable to a majority of Americans.

It is precisely this kind of radical egalitarianism that forms the heart of ObamaCare. Millions of people have had their “inferior” insurance policies cancelled because they did not conform to the ten essential elements the new law requires every policy to have. It doesn’t matter men don’t need maternity care, or that older Americans no longer require coverage for pediatric dentistry. The needs of the individual, be they access to particular doctors, hospitals, or insurance policies, must give way to the interests of society as a whole. If we have to “break a few eggs to make an omelet,” much like the case of the Davert family, who can no longer find or afford insurance for their two disabled children, then so be it. The greater good must be served, even if it means dying with the kind of dignity that is defined by a third party.

As Bill Keller notes in his earlier column about his father-in-law, there are political difficulties with such a proposition, but he sees a way around them simply by re-framing the argument. “But the case for a less excruciating death can stand on a more neutral, less disturbing foundation, namely that it is simply a kinder way of death.” Keller omits the essential question: kinder according to whom?

Few Americans these days take issue with the idea that people should be allowed to die with dignity if they close to do so. Yet as the Liverpool Pathway scandal has shown, such euphemisms can become extremely flexible — especially when such flexibility is tied to cash incentives. “In America, nothing happens without a cost-benefit analysis,” writes Bill Keller. That is exactly the future ObamaCare, replete with its Independent Payment Advisory Board, portends.

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  • mackykam

    First the unborn, then the sick and elderly, then the infirm, crippled(politically incorrect terminology), and mentally ill and retarded. Next in line are the politically incorrect. Seems like Ancient Sparta is making a comeback. And thousands of years of civilization tossed out the window.
    Morality disappears when God is remove from society. And modern churches are complicit through their silence. And the people at large? Hard to expect them to accept personal responsibility when Christianity teaches the need for an interceding Savior to act as sin eater, obviating personal responsibility for one’s behavior..

    That said, the Kellers would be the first in line if they or their offspring (God help us) need medical attention to delay going into the abyss beyond.

    0 0

    • john spielman

      Christ Jesus is NOT “a sin eater”, since repentance must come before forgiveness. Also by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in us, we must not continue to sin, but struggle against it.(see Hebrews10:25-31). The Day of Judgment recorded in Revelation, note that we are judged by our (unrepentant) sins and even the least sin against an absolutely Holy God will result in hell fire. so we are absolutely responsible for our behavior in this life!

      • mackykam

        Then what’s the point of Absolution and Jesus’ dying for sins of mankind if not to wash away sins accumulated prior to dying? A priest repeats some latin mumbo jumbo, shmears some Chrism on the dying and voila! Absolution for a lifetime of sins.

        The only ‘Revelations’ I am acquainted with are the ones with Abraham, the one that occurred on Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments transmitted to the Jewish people by God through Moses; the only ‘Hebrews’ are present in the Testament, Prophets and Writings. Glad you believe in God, even if you believe Him to be divisible.

  • VHG1

    Let’s deal with liberals they way they want to deal with everyone else shall we? Why spare them and their Neanderthal morality from our wrath?

  • American1969

    These people are a disgrace. Who are they to talk about this woman and what she’s going through? If it helps her work through her difficulty, who are these people to say?
    More proof that Regressives have no compassion. They’re like the Nazis: Get rid of all of the “undesireables” in society.

    • tickletik

      The thing I took away from this article was very simple. Both the Kellers are nothing more than bullies. Only they use their intellects instead of their brawn to do bully and abuse others.

    • Jacobite2

      Yes, and Leftists have already written off the will to reproduce. The will to live must be next. Perhaps if you’ll recall the 20th century’s major Leftists — Lenin/Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the NoKo wack-jobs — you’ll notice that Leftists don’t like people, period.,

      • American1969

        I tend to agree with your statement.

  • Diann

    no mention of the fact that his father was 79 – had lived his life and his children were grown. A young woman with young children will have different priorities at the end of her life. It’s still a free country. People have the right to choose how they deal with illness – to fight for each day, or to go peacefully. What is the problem of these journalists? Very short sighted, I’d say.

    • ata777

      fta: Keller’s father-in-law was 79 years old when he died and he chose to do so.

      • nacho475

        I’m sure these two would have a different tune to sing if it were either one of them or a child of theirs that was sick. It is easy to say “hey just let go” to someone else. not so much when you are the one that wants to live.

    • laura r

      i know a woman who was diagnosed w/breast cancer @ age 44. she had the radical surgury, chemo etc. five yrs more oral chemo. many complications from the medicines. several surguries from side effects. liver poisoning, vasular problems etc. still between she has a full time dental practice, & 2 children. the survival rate is 5 yrs, now its 12 yrs. i didnt think she would make it. shes lived to see her son graduate college & to enroll her daughter. she still has her carreer. who is anyone to judge?

  • Atikva

    The human being as a unique, irreplaceable individual endowed with free will and worthy of respect and compassion vs. a cog in the State’s machine to be discarded at the first serious sign of wear and tear: Mother Teresa vs. pharaoh.

    These leftist morons are trying to eradicate two thousand years of Christianity and have us regress to the mores and values of the pagan world (not to mention their laughable attempt to present the UK as a paragon of sensitivity when it comes to human life!)

    Mr. & Mrs. Keller had no business anyway to barge in Mrs. Adams’ life. They better hope that they will never depend on medical treatment to save their own lives, otherwise their campaign against Mrs. Adams will come back to haunt them.

    • Jakareh

      “They better hope that they will never depend on medical treatment to
      save their own lives, otherwise their campaign against Mrs. Adams will
      come back to haunt them.”

      Leftists are incapable of feeling shame, and to them “hypocrisy” essentially means opposition to Leftist policies, as in telling a normal individual, “If you want to get married yourself, then how can you be against gay marriage?”

      Moreover, Bill and Emma Keller consider themselves extraordinary valuable by virtue of their columns and their other advocacy on behalf of Leftist causes. If they were diagnosed with a serious illness, no amount of effort or money would be excessive to save or lengthen their lives. We would watch them endlessly complain about any aspect of their treatment they perceived to be less than exemplary.

      • nacho475

        +1000

  • NAHALKIDES

    Interesting article by Ahlert, bringing to light as it does a story that most of us would otherwise have missed (I normally go out of my way to avoid reading anything by people like Bill Keller). I feel he lays insufficient emphasis on one point, though: he notes that the Kellers are basically obsessed with the costs of keeping Adams alive. But why should that be? In even our current semi-free state, it’s Adams’ money (or her insurance company is paying according to the terms of a policy, or someone is voluntarily accepting the costs), and that is what the Kellers don’t like – that health care resources are private and not controlled by the state. It is the collectivist zeal for central planning and control that is behind their “concern,” and is in fact behind the Left’s unceasing quest for socialized medicine.

    Obamacare is primarily about the collectivization of health-care resources, something our side needs to remember in our fight against it.

  • Omar

    What would you expect. Democrats/liberals/communists/progressives receive sexual release from death. They fight, and fight hard, to abort every possible pregnancy. Why would you expect them to feel any compassion about the living when they worship the dead.

  • cacslewisfan

    What a couple of massive jerks. What unfathomable arrogance and callousness. There is no doubt in my mind that these two grotesque idiots were only too happy to let their father slip quietly away in a hospice, keeping them safe from the disease process and the undignified, emotional business of dying. They proclaim love for mankind, but have no love for the individual.

  • glpage

    Out of respect for other peoples’ choices I would not criticize Ms. Adams or Keller’s father for how they choose to face cancer and how their lives would progress with the disease. Unfortunately, Keller and his wife appear to be those sort of people who know what is best for others regardless of what they know of the others. They both need to be a bit less full of themselves and understand that the choices an individual makes is right for that individual. They do not get to say what is best for others. They are not God.

    • Drakken

      Could you imagine the hypocrisy if one of the Kellers would get terminally sick?

      • NJK

        I hope one of them do .

  • glpage

    One other idea I had about these people, the Kellers. If the human condition is as appalling as they seem to think it is why do they not do the honorable thing and remove themselves from it. Then again, from my personal experience there seems to be little honor in leftists.

  • Fritz Kohlhaas

    Liberals, leftists, progressives have no empathy for other people. They are morons.

  • SoCalMike

    Bill Keller is now and always has been an ideologically self serving scum bag and a false prophet. It would be hard to meet this poor excuse for a man without spitting in his face.

  • William James Ward

    There are answers in non drug therapies but fear guides most
    people to the chemo-death experience, sad……………..William

  • NJK

    I always thought the left cared about women? Especially women with breast caner. They want to kill babies and now women? Is that after or before they give them free birth control?

  • Marlin B. Newburn

    Folks might consider watching the DVD, “Expelled” by Ben Stein. This article pretty much sums up the theme of Ben’s fascinating documentary.

    Kinda frightening thinking, after the carnage of the 20th century, of people still urging or promoting the elimination of “undesirables”, the infirm, and especially, those people who value human life.

    Shades of Hitler, Stalin, Guevara, and Mao. These demonic characters apparently still fascinate totalitarian wannabes.

  • frodo

    To go from the two columns to generalizations about the “The Left” and about healthcare reform is not really good argumentation. Particularly when both columns came in for justified criticism from all parts of the political spectrum. The leap to assertions about a supposed “radical egalitarianism” at the heart of Obamacare substitutes emotion for reason here.

    • Carabec

      ……the Left acts on emotions. The Right on Reality!

      • frodo

        Not based on the comments board here. It seems to me that both “sides” tend to react emotionally first.

  • Carabec

    Not to generalize, but liberals think they Wiill never get sick or die. Three stong impulses among human beings, hunger, reproduction and survival. Libs want to control what we eat, kill our PreBorn, and kill the sick and old. Even though they could be saved. Read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Not a pretty story!