Death Panels: A Novel of Life, Liberty and Faith by Michelle Buckman

In 1994, Michelle Buckman wrote a dystopian novel called Liberty, decided it was “too unbelievable for the reading public to swallow,” and didn’t even try to publish it. Fifteen years later, her story suddenly looked believable. President Obama had proposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Sarah Palin said it would create a “death panel” of bureaucrats. Denounced as the lie of the year, Palin’s term “death panels”  was declared “the most outrageous phrase to enter the lexicon of Americans in 2009,” according to PolitiFact.

“With the media crazy over Palin’s decree,” Michelle says, “every member of a writing group that had critiqued Liberty contacted me within a week of one another even though they had all moved to different parts of the country, each one telling me to dust off that manuscript and get it out there. Coincidentally, I had just moved my office and found the old manuscript. I typed the whole thing back in to the computer (the old floppies were long gone) and immediately had interest from the first two publishers I showed it to.I sold it to Saint Benedict Press, and the editor changed the name to Death Panels since Sarah Palin’s coined phrase captured the entire message of the novel–a man trying to save a Down’s syndrome infant from being put to death.”

Death Panels: A Novel of Life, Liberty and Faith paints a horrifying picture of human society in the not-so-distant future. The year is 2042, and the United States has become the Unified Order of the World. Modern tolerance has reached its logical conclusion, and nothing is actually tolerated. The State knows all and controls all: what you eat, what you watch, how you think and pray. Any lifestyle choice is fine… as long as it doesn’t lower your federal Healthcare Score. Too low and the Health Continuity Councils aka Death Panels will hold your life in their hands. Medical care is rationed, not squandered on the obese, the elderly or the infirm. Defective babies who escape fetal detection and abortion are killed on delivery. Christians have been herded onto a reservation and risk persecution or death if they sneak out. For powerful, ambitious Senator Axyl Houston, this isn’t enough. He wants the Death Panels to have the power to purge future generations of disease and imperfection. Against him stands Dr. David Rudder, an escapee from the Christian reservation. In the simple, merciful act of rescuing a Downs syndrome baby from termination, David becomes entangled in a chain of events that could lead to a revolution for the Culture of Life–or to its final destruction.

David, incognito as Dr. Rex Montane, sneaks out of the Cloistered Dominion (aka the Dome) to infiltrate medical centers in search of medical supplies, which are so scarce in the Dome that his wife and baby died during childbirth. His other mission is to investigate rumors of a Christian underground who secretly pray and study the Bible in defiance of the state-run “church.” If the underground exists, it’s silenced by fear. Rex/David is ordered to euthanize a Down syndrome infant. If he refuses, how will he smuggle a live baby back to the Dome? Somehow, he must find allies in mainstream society who have the conscience and the courage to fight for change. David Rudder is just one man saving one baby, but add Markus, Joanne, Jessica, Marty and….you see the power of prayer and love, battling good against evil.

In 2009, Palin cited Section 1233 of bill HR 3200, in which physicians would counsel Medicare patients about living wills, advance directives, and end-of-life care options. Her own child with Down syndrome, her own elderly parents, and millions like them, might be deemed unworthy of medical care.

In 2013, the whopper of the year was “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” again according to PolitiFact.

What was Michelle Buckman thinking in 1994?

“Back in the early 90’s ,” Michelle says, “Hillary Clinton began preaching ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ which immediately put me on high alert. She published a book to that effect in 1996. During that same time period came a push for Treaty for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” The current ‘small step’ toward this treaty is to sign one into law for ‘persons with disabilities.’ Although it sounds like something for the good of the people, in reality the treaty takes away authority of parents and gives it to the United Nations, and a treaty cannot be undone. . It’s an uphill battle to keep it at bay while we struggle to get an amendment passed that will maintain parental rights above and beyond those of a treaty.”

Add government-controlled healthcare, and “The two ideas developed as one in my creative meanderings, along with the realization that both developments would result in the death of disabled citizens both at the beginning and end of the life spectrum–infants and elderly–because the median public that are in good health are easily persuaded that caring for the ill and infirm is inconvenient and expensive. I created a futuristic scenario as a novel titled Liberty that showed everything coming to fruition in 2012, but being an unpublished author at the time, I had no idea how to market my story to publishers. No one at that time even remotely considered such a scenario could ever come about. It was flatly refused the first few places I sent it. I gave up and stuck the manuscript in a box and shoved it into storage.”

Saying that health-care costs “are going to soar out of sight,” Steven Rattner* opined in The New York Times that we need death panels, or something along those lines, and that stomach-wrenching choices “are inescapable.”

The Affordable Care Act contains provisions for “death panels” to decide which critically ill patients receive care and which don’t, according to Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for Time magazine. “It’s built into the plan. It’s not like a guess or like a judgment. That’s going to be part of how costs are controlled,” Halperin told “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV. “We do need to do some of that in this country, because we can’t afford to spend so much on end-of-life care. A very high percentage of our healthcare spending is for a very small number of people at the last stages of their life. I’m not saying the system shouldn’t allow that, but there’s too much cost. There’re judgments have to be made.” (  11-25-2013)

On January 30, 2013, Paul Krugman told a face-to-face audience, “So the snarky version…which I shouldn’t even say because it will get me in trouble is death panels and sales taxes is how we do this.”

Author Kia Heavey writes, “Buckman has created a harrowing depiction of our possible future if we continue down the road we’re on. Specifically, lack of respect for life and too-powerful governments running our lives and making inhumane bureaucratic decisions in the name of efficiency. The story is well-told and totally gripping…At many points in the story, I told myself, ‘Oh, that could never happen.’ Then I saw the news story** about the Belgian doctor euthanizing 45-year-old, otherwise healthy twin brothers merely because they were deaf and going blind. (On Dec. 14, 2012.) Guess what? It’s happening already. Read ‘Death Panels’ and take a good look at the sorry, demoralized, sick, sick society we still have a chance not to become.”


* Steven Rattner was a counselor to the Treasury secretary in the Obama administration. His op-ed appeared in print on September 17, 2012, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Beyond Obamacare.

** The remains of more than 15,000 babies were incinerated as ‘clinical waste’ by hospitals in Britain with some used in ‘waste to energy’ plants, Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent, reported 24 March 2014 in The Telegraph: Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals |

Michelle Buckman is the author of six novels including award-winning novel Rachel’s Contrition and Christy Award Finalist Maggie Come Lately. She is an international conference speaker renowned for her dynamic discussions on writing and faith. Michelle has been a featured author at the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow, International Christian Retail Show, Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association, and the South Carolina Book Festival. Born in New York, raised in Canada, she has lived in the south for over thirty years. Michelle currently resides near the Carolina coast with her husband, five children and a slew of animals. Walking on the beach is both her inspiration and her favorite pastime.


About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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