Feature

‘Death panels’: Just a myth?

This much is fact: the health-care plan provides for voluntary conversations between doctors and elderly patients about their end-of-life options, such as living wills and hospice care.

Bad news, said Ellen Goodman in The Boston Globe. President Obama is “trying to kill your grandma.” That, at least, is what we’re hearing this week from hysterical opponents of health-care reform, who insist Obama’s health-care plan will force seniors into “end-of-life” counseling that would, in effect, cut costs by forcing old people to stop getting medical treatment and just die. It’s not just grannies in danger, said Joan Walsh in Salon.com. Right-wing heroine Sarah Palin expressed her outrage last week that “my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’” and await a verdict on whether they deserve to live. Such a prospect, Palin wrote, is “downright evil,” and it’s hard to disagree with her … except perhaps in pointing out that no such proposal exists. She and her fellow Republicans are spreading “the most stupid and divisive lies we’ve seen in a long time.”

It’s ridiculous, all right—but Obama deserves some of the blame, said Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. His plan does contain a wholly sensible provision that would pay for a strictly voluntary conversation between doctors and elderly patients about their end-of-life options, such as living wills, hospice care, and the like. But by encouraging “prolonged debate and multiple bills,” Obama has lost control of his message. With the facts so muddled, he’s opened the door to charges that he plans to take away private health insurance, lead a government takeover of medicine, and, yes, kill grandma. It’s called “poisoning the well,” said Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post. The “political terrorists” who are trying to block reform of a broken and increasingly expensive health-care system know that their usual distortions won’t suffice. So they have reached for the only weapon left to them: the “flat-out lie.”

There is, however, a kernel of truth in the kill-granny hysteria, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. The proposed reforms, we’re told, would bring down health-care costs, so it is “not delusional” to wonder if the plan’s provision for end-of-life counseling isn’t an effort to reduce “end-of-life spending.” Indeed, Obama and his advisors have said as much, said Lee Siegel in TheDailybeast.com. They hope to place “economic hurdles” in the way of older citizens who were overconsuming health care in an effort to prolong their lives. I believe the lack of universal health care is “America’s burning shame,” but nudging seniors toward death, however gently, would be just as “morally revolting.”

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