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.