Amidst accusations and denials that Obama Care authorizes, or at least permits, end-of-life counseling (AKA "death panels"), we are reminded that evil most often begins with small steps before it comes fully into its own. We should be prepared for the worst, for not only Obama Care but modern medical "ethics" practically guarantee that result.


We know that there was a provision in the 2,000 pages-plus "legislation" (actually, bureaucratic regulations) that drew fire from critics, and it was removed before passage late last winter. But recently there have been reports in the media that Medicare and Medicaid director Donald Berwick has reinstated them via administrative rules.


In any case, there seems to be great determination on the part of the Obama Administration to insert this "cost-saving" measure into federal health care policy. After all, didn't proponents of Obama Care declare that cost savings in Medicare would help finance the huge costs of federally mandated health insurance?


Thus, we are on a slippery slope, in my opinion, to government officials determining who deserves lifesaving treatment and who doesn't. What makes this slope particularly slippery (mixing metaphors) is the blood beginning to run, as it already has with abortion and euthanasia.


What point am I making here? Once the line is crossed that separates kindness and cruelty — good and evil, if you will — the passions unleashed by the relaxation of the ban on killing make it easier to acquiese not only in the extreme or supposedly obvious cases where death is the preferred approach, but in the long train of cases waiting for approval, given completion of the first step.


Let's start with abortion. We were assured by a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision (1973) that abortion was being authorized primarily for the sake of the mother's health. But given the Court's broad definition of health (emotional and psychological, as well as physical), the effect was to authorize abortions at any time during pregnancy for any reason.


Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, in a concurring opinion, denied that the Court's opinion was sanctioning "abortion on demand." But nearly 50 million abortion deaths later, it is impossible to deny that. Abortion was defined as merely a medical procedure, a matter between a woman and her doctor. It is the only procedure which is not regulated by law. Was there blood in the water with Roe v. Wade? That seems clear.


Abortion foes predicted that persons at the end of life would be no less vulnerable to abortion ethics. They were right. All it takes is for some relative, doctor or judge to claim that a living person is in a "vegetative" state, and voila! he or she is a candidate for starvation and dehydration. The most famous, but by no means the only, instance of this was Terri Schiavo, whose husband "remembered" that Terri once said that she would not like to live like the unfortunate person portrayed in some television show.


The fact is, as incapacitated as Terri was, she communicated as best she could through her functioning senses, for she was not unconscious or in a coma. But the passion for cutting off her feedings was possessed of more political clout than even a Congress and President determined to save her. That widely publicized case has been followed by the now-obscure cases that no longer excite controversy.


Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington have authorized euthanasia for reasons not unlike those given for abortion, viz., that the unwanted person is either no longer "viable" or the life no longer has "quality" (whatever that is).


About 20 years ago a woman in a High Desert community was threatening to shoot herself, but sheriff's deputies stopped her. During the long vigil, persons in her trailer park neighborhood were kept from entering the area until the danger of guns firing had passed. Someone I knew at the time told me that the woman should have been allowed to shoot herself so that everyone affected could go home.


This cold attitude toward a desperate person's plight chilled me to the bone, but wasn't it thoroughly predictable, given the hard public policies of our government that devalue human life? Once there is blood in the water, sharks appear to take full advantage. We must always remember that the protection of human life is not a marginal issue, but central to our character as a free and decent people.


Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause"  (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@