By George Parry

This month, I will become eligible to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits. As the new year dawned, I happily contemplated sucking up those sweet government bucks while peacefully running down the clock in Florida, a.k.a. God's waiting room.

But then the buzz-kills at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services interrupted my reverie. New regulations revealed their previously secret plan to pay physicians to regularly counsel us baby boomers on "end of life" planning.

Talk about a downer. Why, I wondered, does HHS care if I've planned my final exit?

Apparently, the department spends billions annually on a losing battle to briefly prolong the lives of terminally ill oldsters. Its bottom line would definitely improve if we would just skip this costly medical fuss and take the E-ZPass lane into the next world. This would have the added budgetary benefit of prying our cold, dead lips from the Social Security udder sooner rather than later.

Given the government's pressing need to get us off its books, I wonder what form its end-of-life counseling will take? As a former federal employee, I anticipate a training film for prospective physician counselors. An actor clad in a white lab coat drips concern as he asks a querulous female "patient" about her ungrateful kids, how many of her relatives and friends have predeceased her, and whether she's depressed, lonely, and worried sick about surviving on the pittance paid by those stingy bastards at Social Security.

The unspoken subtext: Hey, lady, how much longer do you plan to be a resource-grubbing, budget-busting waste of skin and space? And just how much more television do you need to watch in the dayroom before you're ready to step into the tunnel of light with grandma and Elvis?

Before someone can serve on a jury in a capital murder case, he or she has to be, in the cold-blooded jargon of my profession, "death-qualified" - i.e., willing to impose the death penalty. For its end-of-life counseling, I expect the government will prefer - and likely pay a bonus to - "death-qualified" docs, those who put some extra zip into urging their elderly patients to shuffle into oblivion a little faster. We wouldn't want wacko pro-life types to gum up the works by discussing the advantages of resorting to expensive health care.

Of course, good luck trying to sell the baby boomers on passing up anything that, like health care, is free for the taking. We're not called the "me generation" for nothing.

As for me, my living will directs that until I have gotten back every penny of my so-called contributions to Social Security, with interest, all conceivable medical means shall be used to preserve my life - even if I am near room temperature and have the brain function of a celery stalk. It's only appropriate that I die the way I lived: grabbing freebies with both hands.

George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor practicing law in Philadelphia.