One thing we all can do to help avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’

OK, I’m ready to do my part to help the nation avoid the fiscal cliff.

And here’s part of doing my part: I hereby accept my duty to die.

Ever heard of a guy named Dick Lamm? Once upon a time, Lamm was governor of Colorado. He earned the nickname of Gov. Gloom with blunt pronouncements like this:

“We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.”

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Lamm said that in 1984. He was right then, and he’s still right now.

The most out-of-control engine of federal spending is Medicare.

You may hear more about Social Security as a rampaging entitlement. But Social Security needs only tweaking. It’s Medicare whose costs are running ever faster away from its revenues.

And 30 percent of Medicare’s costs come from people in the last year of life. A goodly portion of that care is futile: long-shot procedures, pointless tests, people hooked up to tubes in hospitals when they should be in hospice.

I just read an article that was skeptical about the scope of the end-of-life cost problem. But even its authors concluded this: Proper use of hospice, advanced directives and do-not-resuscitate orders for the terminally ill might save $69 billion a year. Such savings would get us more than halfway to avoiding the feared “fiscal cliff.”

We Americans are really bad at accepting that we’re gonna die. Yet most of us, when polled, say we don’t want medical skill, machines and expense lavished on us in the last ditch. We’d rather die at home. We’d rather see the money better-spent on younger generations.

Yet we can’t seem to make the needed adjustments in culture, practice and law.

That’s why I’m saying it out loud: I accept my duty to die.

For me, this isn’t a matter of far-off theory. I’ve got my AARP card and the men in my family tree tend to sign off early. And it’s not as if I think about my demise with anything approaching saintly equanimity.

But when my time comes, I hope to have the guts not to try to stave it off by stealing from my kids, their kids and my community.

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