Book Review: The Death Panels

Deep in the human heart is an innate sense of right and wrong. It guides our actions whether we were raised in the Amazon rainforest or in downtown Manhattan, whether we believe in God or not. It helps us tell right from wrong unless another influence supplants it.  This understanding of essential facts like the dignity of the human person and his right to live is so vitally important to society that it is inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. “All men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We may not be aware of the presence of this Natural Law within our hearts; however, we do recognize when it has been violated, it causes a visceral sense of outrage, for example when a child is brutalized. Dictators and totalitarian regimes know this, which is why they invest so much time in re-shaping the consciences of their nation with propaganda.

In Michelle Buckman’s novel, that is precisely the kind of society America has become in 2042, when it has been absorbed into a worldwide government called the “Unified Order of the World”. The fundamental right to live is turned into a duty to kill “for the good of the nation, for the good of the world.” Decades of programming, dehumanizing the weak and deliberate obliteration of the family, and its primordial role in reproduction, has paid off for the leaders of the regime, which has gained absolute control of a populace that follows orders to kill the unfit and experiment on the ill. The leaders of the Unified Order, led by Axyl Houston, are about to implement their version of ‘The Final Solution,’ the extermination of the inhabitants of the Cloistered Dominion, the Christian ghetto, who pose the last threat to the complete takeover of the human heart.

The Death Panels, like its predecessor, Aldous Huxley’s prophetic Brave New World in the 1930’s, is a clarion call to those whose consciences have fallen asleep in a nation once considered the pinnacle of civilization and beacon of freedom to the world. GK Chesterton said that Brave New World was a revolt against Utopianism, rejecting materialism and loss of individuality, sexual promiscuity, and was written about America.

The Death Panels was written about the America towards which we are heading if good people do nothing to stop it. It’s our last warning.

The Death Panels is a compelling read, despite how fiercely the atrocities of this brave new America assault our sensibilities.  Although offended, we are tempted to proclaim that we are above such outrages in America, yet, in the absolute control the state has over health care, we are eerily reminded of certain legislation which was just rammed through Congress.

Today’s politicians have decided what is “for the good of the nation, for the good of the world,” despite the will of the American public. The legislation has provisions for the same type of Death Panels we find in the Unified Order where those with genetic defects are eliminated as too expensive to receive care. Today, in 2010, it is accomplished by a voluntary 90% abortion rate; in 2042 it is accomplished by “dumping” whereby each birthing center has a drawer, where a defective newborn is strapped in, the drawer pushed in, and a button pressed, which gasses the newborn to death, and, in a coldly efficient manner, his corpse unceremoniously dumped into a waste bin.

This is too much for David Rudder, an outcast who, because of his refusal to abandon his Catholic faith, lives in the Dominion, a penal colony of Catholics carved out of the wasteland of Detroit’s inner cities. Even though he is a physician, his wife Elizabeth and newborn daughter Bethany languished and died for lack of updated medical equipment, which the government denied the Dominion in an attempt to slowly extinguish the remnants of the population resistant to indoctrination.

David came to mainstream America seeking solace from his grief, determined to do some good and make contact with the Christian Underground when after assisting at a birth, a child with Down syndrome is born, and he encounters the horrific process of “dumping.” Rudder rebels, and along with obstetrician Markus Holmes, whose disgust at the outrage gives him a burst of courage, they run with newborn baby, Frankie, in a desperate quest to save his life. These reluctant heroes have no idea that their bold actions will bring about upheaval in a nation which seems to be sleeping. They inspire Jessica Main, who has been secretly yearning for a family of her own. She contacts members of the Christian Underground, who have been waiting to capitalize on such an opportunity to expose the heinous experiments conducted on sick children donated to the State in the Gift of Life foundation. In The Death Panels one small act of rebellion from a reluctant hero touches off a mass awakening which threatens the hold that the totalitarian regime has over its somnolent citizenry.

The tragedy is that in America in 2010, this downturn is already far advanced, and we as a nation are too blind to see how far down the slippery slope our apathy has allowed us to slide. The Death Panels may be our last chance to see the terrifying consequences of deeming one member of the human family ‘life unworthy of life,’ and thereby degrading the value of all life. This fast-paced, powerfully written novel may be the wake up call we have been seeking.


Mother to three daughters and a Literature instructor, Leticia has always loved writing, good literature, and classic films. She became a blogger in 2006, and began to include film reviews on her blogs, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, and Cause of Our Joy Suddenly Leticia was thrust into the world of film criticism when Eric Sheske of the National Catholic Register mentioned her blog as a source for Catholic film reviews. The next day, an invitation arrived to attend a film premiere in Hollywood, which she accepted, and a film critic was born. Leticia began Catholic Media Review to guide parents in their decisions on whether to let their children see a particular film. She also promotes independent family films like “Bella”, and “Fireproof” so that they can reach a larger audience. Her goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture to what Pope John Paul II called a “Culture of Life”. She realizes that the pivotal role the media has to play in this transformation, and is determined that those who would defame Christ’s message do not have the last word. She writes film and book reviews for the following publications: MercatorNet, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online, and “National Catholic Register”. Her reviews have been posted at the websites of Reuters, IMBD, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, and various TV news stations.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage