Sarah Palin said it first, “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

In this death denying culture, these words struck media pay dirt.  In the minds of government-phobic Americans the health care reform debate morphed into to a Darth Vader moment.

Sounding dark and ominous, “death panel” temporarily cast a huge shadow over the debate.

It wasn’t long before Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)  jumped on the death panel bandwagon by telling a town hall crowd, “You have every right to fear….a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on Grandma.”

It is now well established that the death panel that would pull the plug on your grandma is one more phantom of demagogic political rhetoric. Is it too soon to say the death panel is dead?

Health care experts and politicians have convincingly made the case that there is no such provision in pending health care legislation.  In the Grand Junction town meeting President Obama spoke with passion and tenderness about his own grandmother: “I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love, who’s aging, deteriorate, and have to struggle with that.”   Let’s hope this puts the final nail in the “death panel” coffin.

Most of us can identify with Barack Obama’s story. Sooner or later we all find ourselves sitting beside the bed of a loved one who is clearly dying and suffering terribly while we feel powerless and heartbroken.

As a protestant minister, over the years I have spent many, many hours sitting with families while doctors share a dreadful prognosis, appropriate pain medications, the benefits of hospice and how to keep the loved one as comfortable and clear as possible until the moment of death.

As a matter of compassion and human dignity every American should be afforded the opportunity for end-of-life consultations when the moment presents itself.

It is also essential that every one of us complete a living will and advanced directive before our personal crisis occurs. To provide guidance for the medical professionals who care for us and our loved ones who suffer with us is how we can best express love and compassion to those who are intimately involved in our end-of-life drama.

It turns out Sarah Palin may have done us a great service. By speaking of medical consultation in such a draconian way she did succeed in getting our collective attention.

And sooner or later we as a people must get a grip on two fundamental truths: everything is temporary and everyone dies.

The health care reform debate is not only about how we will live together but how we will help each other die. Living and dying are not two separate realities but two sides of the same coin.

Let us hope and pray that when this health care debate comes to a vote we will finally understand that we’re all in this together.