Cass Sunstein: Pay No Attention to my Pro-Death Past

by Ben Johnson

Theologians often debate the “age of accountability,” the time in a person’s life when he becomes accountable for his actions before God. Obama’s Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein, has a unique answer: It must be at least 49.

When Texas Republican Congressman Michael Burgess confronted Sunstein with his own writings, which suggest the government should deny older people medical care, Sunstein said he had written the paper so long ago he should not be held accountable for it.

“I’m a lot older now than the author with my name was,” Cass cooed, “and I’m not sure what I think about what that young man wrote. Things written as an academic are not a legitimate part of what we do as a government official. So, I am not focusing on sentences that a young Cass Sunstein wrote years ago.”

Cass Sunstein, 56, wrote the paper “Lives, Life-Years, and Willingness to Pay” in the long-forgotten days of July 2003, when he was a mere 48-years-old.[1]

The paper was published while Sunstein was at the University of Chicago, before he was recruited to Harvard Law School by then-dean Elena Kagan.

Some ObamaCare Recipients Are More Equal than Others

In his 2003 paper, Sunstein criticized the government for protecting human life as though all lives were equal. Specifically, Sunstein said the government’s method for determining who received medical treatment should be changed; he suggested replacing the “value of a statistical life” (VSL) – which viewed all lives as equal – with the “value of a statistical life year” (VSLY). That means the government should allow young people to receive medical care, if necessary while allowing older people to die, because they will live longer after the procedure is completed.

“No program simply ‘saves lives’; life-extension is always what is at issue,” Sunstein lectured. “If the goal is to promote people’s welfare by lengthening their lives, a regulation that saves 500 life-years (and, let us say, twenty five people) is, other things equal, better than a regulation that saves 50 life-years (and, let us say, twenty five people).”

He laid bare his preference: “I urge that the government should indeed focus on statistical life-years rather than statistical lives,” he wrote. “A program that saves young people produces more welfare than one that saves old people.”

“Older people are treated worse for only one reason: They are older.”

Sunstein wrote those who believe it is wrong or discriminatory to deny care to the dying precisely when they most need it worry needlessly:

Under the life-years approach, older people are treated worse for only one reason: They are older. This is not an injustice. Every old person was young once, and every young person will be old too (if given the chance).

Sunstein considered this “reciprocity”: The State graciously allows the non-aborted young to grow until the point they lose their utility to their masters, at which point they, too, shall be culled.

He insisted the euthanasia-by-neglect calculation does not “run afoul of ethical limits on cost-benefit analysis.”

“Of course it is tempting, and in a sense right, to urge that each life should count for no more and no less than one,” he wrote. However, any ethical problem exists “only because of a kind of optical illusion.”

What would that mean in the context of ObamaCare?

Immunizing 100 newborn babies would save 820 life-years, while giving heart transplants to the same number of 60-year-olds would “only” save 220 life-years.

Using that logic, wouldn’t the most life-saving regulation be to outlaw abortion? Sunstein, Robert Reich, Ezekiel Emanuel, and their fellow hypocrites in Obama administration’s only consistency is promoting the Culture of Death.

He’s Not Alone

Sunstein is far from the only influential Democrat to admit he wants the elderly to pass away. Robert Reich told a gathering a good national health care policy would tell sick older Americans, “We’re going to let you die.”

Other liberals have been more nuanced in their opposition to advanced age. Obama health adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, proposed a similar plan for denying health care to older people in 2009. In his article “Principles for Allocation of Scarce Medical Interventions,” published in the British medical journal The Lancet, Emanuel wrote the logical conclusion of favoring young over old people would mean saving babies – and he has no interest in that. He was interested in more developed females.

“The death of a 20-year-old young woman is intuitively worse than that of a 2-month old girl,” he wrote, “even though the baby has had less life. The 20-year-old has a much more developed personality than the infant, and has drawn the investment of others to begin as-yet-unfulfilled projects.”

Zeke promoted a “Complete Lives System,” under which “individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most substantial chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated.” He justified choosing “adolescents and young adults over infants,” because the former “have received substantial education and parental care, investments that will be wasted without a complete life.”

Redistribution of Life?

Emanuel’s writings raise the specter that the government should be in the business of distributing life. He wrote, “[T]he complete lives system assumes that, although life-years are equally valuable to all, justice requires the fair distribution of them.”

Although Zeke showed himself keenly interested in “fair distribution” of life, he showed great interest in setting the terms by which they will be distributed. For instance, in his view, life should never be based on “mainstream values”:

In view of the multiplicity of reasonable values in society and in view of what is at stake, social value allocation must not legislate socially conventional, mainstream values. When Seattle’s dialysis policy favoured [sic.] parents and church-goers, it was criticised. [sic.]

He gave a better idea of his plans in a 1996 article, when Ezekiel suggested “not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.”

(Story continues after video.)

He’s Not Alone (Part II: The “Young and Foolish” Defense)

Congressman Burgess deserves praise for attempting to bring Sunstein’s radicalism to light. The Czar’s response – that he was young and foolish eight years into his middle age – showed the depths of this administration’s desperation and contempt. He is not alone in this, either. Obama Science Czar John Holdren tried the same thing when Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, confronted him over a 1971 prediction that “some form of eco-catastrophe, if not thermonuclear war, seems almost certain to overtake us before the end of the century.” Holdren retorted, “That was a statement which at least, at the age of 26, I had the good sense to hedge by saying ‘almost certain.’” The reality is the beliefs of the 26-year-old have not been repudiated, nor changed. Instead, Holdren has restated and reiterated them until Barack Obama placed him in a position to bring them to fruition.

Shut Up and Let Me Deny You Health Care

Sunstein’s contempt showed through in his second sentence: “Things written as an academic are not a legitimate part of what we do as a government official.” Really? The regulatory capo would have us believe the ideas he has spent a lifetime pondering and formulating hold no interest for him now that he has the opportunity to enact them? That the very insights that Obama used as the basis for bringing him into the administration are no reflection upon his appointment, nor what he is expected to do in his tenure? Sunstein practically begs, “Don’t hold me accountable for things I wrote when I was paid to express my most penetrating insights during the previous administration – thoughts I have not repudiated in any way. Let me laugh it off as a youthful indiscretion and go about implementing it.”

Let the next Republican administration appoint David Duke to a cabinet post and see if Sunstein stands by that criteria. Let us see if the media give a blanket pass for “things written as an academic” of the sort they have given Sunstein. While there have been throngs of books, television “exposés,” and docudramas dedicated to the likes of Duke, who served one term in a state legislature, even the name Cass Sunstein is mired in obscurity for those who do not follow the Washington circus closely – and Sunstein’s ideology may visit the cold hand of death upon our family members, loved ones, or ourselves.

Proverbs 8:36 records God saying, “All they that hate Me love death.” The inverse is surely true, as well.


1. To be fair, other people have made more ridiculous uses of this defense.