The XX Factor

What Can Ted Kennedy’s “Good Ending” Teach Us?

There’s a slim hope ventured by some in today’s articles about Senator Kennedy that perhaps his death might somehow help improve the prospects of health care reform by briefly relieving the partisan acrimony and serving as a reminder of the urgency of his signature legislative cause, which is, after all, about people’s lives and deaths. But no one is counting on it. And when you think about it, the ailing Kennedy’s own end-of-life decisions seem like every American’s ideal, hardly an advertisement for overhauling a system that makes such options possible. First, he got to choose the intensive treatment he wanted-surgery, chemo, and radiation-although his tumor was judged inoperable and lethal, and although he was diagnosed at 76. And then he got to die a dignified death, not trapped in a hospital, but saying farewell to family, friends, and dogs on Cape Cod. No one would dream of begrudging him his “good ending,” as the Times called it; it is inspiring. But perhaps the Senator wouldn’t mind if, as we pay tribute to the valiant close to an impressive career, we also note how much his “prudently aggressive” medical approach must have cost, and how unusually lucky he was in the way it played out.

  Photograph of Ted Kennedy by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.