From the New York Times, Friday, August 14, 2009:
The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.
But the rumor – which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false – was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.
Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).
There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure. But over the course of the past few months, early, stated fears from anti-abortion conservatives that Mr. Obama would pursue a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda, combined with twisted accounts of actual legislative proposals that would provide financing for optional consultations with doctors about hospice care and other “end of life” services, fed the rumor to the point where it overcame the debate.
A pending House bill has language authorizing Medicare to finance beneficiaries’ consultations with professionals on whether to authorize aggressive and potentially life-saving interventions later in life.
“I guess what surprised me is the ferocity, it’s much stronger than I expected,” said John Rother, the executive vice president of AARP, which is supportive of the health care proposals and has repeatedly declared the “death panel” rumors false.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE, WITH A TIMELINE ON END-OF-LIFE CONSULTATION DEBATE >>
Opponents Continue to Distort Health Care Debate
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, on ABC’s This
Week, Aug. 16, 2009: “I think it’s really horrific that some opponents of the health reform
bill have used painful personal moments to scare people about what is in the bill. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
President Barack Obama, on CNN Saturday,
August 15, 2009: “When you start making arguments like that, that’s simply dishonest.”
Journalist Margaret Carlson, Bloomberg News, August 15, 2009: “This is simply
a provision to pay doctors for what they already do, which is to explain to people at the end of
life what their options are. This is nothing. This is an imaginary, trumped-up issue.”
READ THE RELEASE >>
Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman has a thoughtful and interesting piece on decision making around end-of-life care:
I was not surprised by the president’s story. Health care reform is not just a matter of spreadsheets and patient charts. It’s a repository of the personal narratives we carry around in our family hard drives.
This time, the story he told was about end-of-life costs and caring. It was about Madelyn Dunham, his grandmother who had died just a day too soon to see him become president. You see, the woman called Toot was terminally ill with cancer when she fell, broke her hip and then agreed to a hip replacement. The surgery was “successful” but two weeks later, as the president said, “You know, things fell apart.”
Obama told a New York Times reporter that he would have paid for the operation himself if necessary, but then he asked aloud whether society should be expected to pay for such treatment of any other terminally ill parent or grandparent. Was this a “sustainable model”? asked the presidential grandson, adding, “So that’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues.”
I was struck by this because I remembered Obama’s announcement of Dunham’s death in November: “She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side.” What a different image of dying that evoked than the one that describes a fall, an emergency, surgery, the tumbling decisions that his family, like so many others, faced.
But I was also struck by the way the president framed Toot’s treatment as one of the “difficult moral issues” surrounding health care costs. Indeed, folks on the right saw this story as Obama’s warning about rationing ahead. But aren’t there places at the end of life where ethics and economics, compassion and cost, dovetail rather than conflict?
Read the rest here.