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False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots

Posted by dorian on August 14, 2009


Steve Pope/Associated Press Senator Charles E. Grassley spoke Wednesday to a crowd in Adel, Iowa, about health care.

Published: August 13, 2009 New York Times

WASHINGTON — 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.

Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.

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.

On Thursday, Mr. Grassley said in a statement that he and others in the small group of senators that was trying to negotiate a health care plan had dropped any “end of life” proposals from consideration.

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. Though the consultations would be voluntary, and a similar provision passed in Congress last year without such a furor, Mr. Grassley said it was being dropped in the Senate “because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly.”

The extent to which it and other provisions have been misinterpreted in recent days, notably by angry speakers at recent town hall meetings but also by Ms. Palin — who popularized the “death panel” phrase — has surprised longtime advocates of changes to the health care system.

“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. “It’s people who are ideologically opposed to Mr. Obama, and this is the opportunity to weaken the president.”

The specter of government-sponsored, forced euthanasia was raised as early as Nov. 23, just weeks after the election and long before any legislation had been drafted, by an outlet decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama, The Washington Times.

In an editorial, the newspaper reminded its readers of the Aktion T4 program of Nazi Germany in which “children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition.”

Noting the “administrative predilections” of the new team at the White House, it urged “anyone who sees the current climate as a budding T4 program to win the hearts and minds of deniers.”

The editorial captured broader concerns about Mr. Obama’s abortion rights philosophy held among socially conservative Americans who did not vote for him. But it did not directly tie forced euthanasia to health care plans of Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress.

When the Democrats included money for family planning in a proposed version of the stimulus bill in January, the socially conservative George Neumayr wrote for the American Spectator: “Euthanasia is another shovel ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus, too — controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs.”

Ms. McCaughey, whose 1994 critique of Mr. Clinton’s plan was hotly disputed after its publication in The New Republic, weighed in around the same time.

She warned that a provision in the stimulus bill would create a bureaucracy to “monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost-effective,” was carried in a commentary she wrote for Bloomberg News that gained resonance throughout the conservative media, most notably with Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck.

The legislation did not direct the coordinator to dictate doctors’ treatments. A separate part of the law — regarding a council set up to coordinate research comparing the effectiveness of treatments — states that the council’s recommendations cannot “be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for payment, coverage or treatment.”

But Ms. McCaughey’s article provided another opportunity for others to raise the specter of forced euthanasia. “Sometimes for the common good, you just have to say, ‘Hey, Grandpa, you’ve had a good life,’ ” Mr. Beck said.

The syndicated conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” The Washington Times editorial page reprised its reference to the Nazis, quoting the Aktion T4 program: “It must be made clear to anyone suffering from an incurable disease that the useless dissipation of costly medications drawn from the public store cannot be justified.”

The notion was picked up by various conservative groups, but still, as Mr. Obama and Congress remained focused on other matters, it did not gain wide attention. Former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, an advocate for the health care proposals, said he was occasionally confronted with the “forced euthanasia” accusation at forums on the plans, but came to see it as an advantage. “Almost automatically you have most of the audience on your side,” Mr. Daschle said. “Any rational normal person isn’t going to believe that assertion.”

But as Congress developed its legislation this summer, critics seized on provisions requiring Medicare financing for “end of life” consultations, bringing the debate to a peak. To David Brock, a former conservative journalist who once impugned the Clintons but now runs a group that monitors and defends against attacks on liberals, the uproar is a reminder of what has changed — the creation of groups like his — and what has not.

“In the 90s, every misrepresentation under the sun was made about the Clinton plan and there was no real capacity to push back,” he said. “Now, there is that capacity.”

Still, one proponent of the euthanasia theory, Mr. Neumayr, said he saw no reason to stop making the claim.

“I think a government-run plan that is administered by politicians and bureaucrats who support euthanasia is inevitably going to reflect that view,” he said, “and I don’t think that’s a crazy leap.”

Robert Pear contributed reporting.


16 Responses to “False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots”

  1. kay~ms said

    With an administration that so aggressively supports abortion “rights” at any stage of a pregnancy… can euthanasia be far behind?… No. No wonder people are scared and outraged.

    How exactly will the government avoid having a panel that decides who gets treatment and who doesn’t if there are limited resources?


  2. Hors Service said

    Like in France, by imposing more heavily the firms and the non-ill people.

    For the general well-being: e.g, one of the reasons of the fall of GM is that for each car, they pay thrice the price for the same (and even a worse) health care than Toyota, n°1 in the world.


  3. kay~ms said

    I agree that we badly need healthcare reform. It’s shameful that are numbers rank so low compared to other countries.

    Both of your points are good ones Hors, but here’s a scenario…”oops, Obama’s math was off.. it looks like were gonna need those panels after all”. Unfortunately Obama’s reputation is going to hinder our healthcare reform. Socialism is scary! At the very least, his bill NEEDS to be completely clear, and it isn’t.

    I do want the government to get involved in our healthcare.. I want the insurance companies to have some real competition so the prices go down. I see a lot of republicans screaming against this plan and I do agree.. it needs to be fine tuned. But I think there are many who care more about their wealth than the well being of their fellow man. And to me that is almost..ALMOST as bad as the liberals who scream for abortion “rights” at any stage of a pregnancy.


  4. Anonymous said

    I think that this is far worst… Abortion is dealing with people that aren’t even born, healthcare is dealing with real people.

    I can’t understand why people could call themselves profoundly christian and refuse a national healthcare plan…

    Dom Hélder Camâra, I think, said “I feed a poor person, and people call me a Saint. I ask why the poor can’t feed himself, and I’m being called communist.”

    I think it’s quite appropriated to the situation.

    Those “death panels” is what is HAPPENING, now, in the USA. People who aren’t rich enough to pay for an insurance can’t afford medical treatments.

    And dozens of industrialised countries have functioning national health care plans, and no one need those “death panels”. Why does the USA, who while spending 5% of their Gross National Product more in health than the other developped countries have still 12% of the population not covered (one in ten person!), couldn’t do the same?

    And we, Frenchs as well as other European countries, had long periods of so-called “socialism” governements, and as you see, we aren’t communists or a third-world country.
    Socialism isn’t scary as such, but I think communism is a bit.

    And did you thought about absolute capitalism? If you privatise health, why not privatise police or education? The same arguments does apply to them: optimisation of the concurrence, lower prices, better efficiency…
    Then you get a really scary society…


  5. Hors Service said

    Sorry, it was me, forgot to log on.


  6. dorian said

    hors – those against nationalized health care will come around and figure out that the other nations who have this are serving their citizens better. i do know canadians and europeans working here who run back to their country when they’re seriously ill. they are just in awe of the high cost of medical care here. i’ve seen how well the nationalized system works, having family and friends in europe, and a lot of american lives will be saved if our government gave us the same benefits. imo, the mob perpetrators don’t even care for any dialogue or discussion re. the healthcare issue or any other issue. bottomline is that they do not like the president and what he stands for and they will fight against anything his administration will put forward.
    there is a lot of hate and aggression out there all of a sudden and people who feed on those things, like rush limbaugh, etc…, are loving it. the worst part of it is that some of these hatemongers pushing their hate agenda are calling themselves patriotic.??!! it is very embarrassing for our country.


  7. John said

    This just goes to show how biased the New York Times is. They are right in Obama’s hip pocket. The Times asserts that the death panel rumors are “false” as if that is a proven fact. But it is not. There is very good reason to believe that the rumors might be true. At least the Times should take a neutral position, but in their zeal to support everything Obama their bias is coming through loud and clear. For the real story about the death panels, read the following Sarah Palin Facebook posting.



  8. Princessxxx said

    yes, it is very embarrassing.

    it is a shame that there are many, like kay, that buy into everything that is said to diminish Obama, because, let’s just face it, they don’t like a black president.

    just watch the town hall meetings with the dissenters. the FAT, STUPID, WHITE, dissenters.
    most on medicare already, many saying, i’m insured, f*ck the rest of you.
    when they are allowed to express their real opinion, it turns out, they haven’t a clue about the health care plan. just obama hating.

    the truth is, america has never been the great country it claims to be. never.

    and kay, i feel if a person wants to be euthanized, they should be allowed.


  9. Princessxxx said

    i see my last comment is in moderation. n*tty w*rds, i guess.

    i watched both of obamas town halls, and i will say this.
    i would rather have a muslim from kenya running this country
    than the “retarded cowboy” that we had for the last 8 yrs.

    maybe there is hope for america after all, but i doubt it.
    not as long as we have the corporate greed
    and the KKK aka evangelical christians in the mix.

    one question,
    if life with jesus in heaven is so great, why do christians do everything they can to extend their life? why don’t they just go be in “glory” without pain and suffering like they promise us all?

    i guess that was two questions.

    wanna take that one on, kay?

    three questions.

    guess who’s been hittin’ the bong like michael phelps?

    4 questions.


  10. dorian said

    i just found 4 comments on the moderation queue. no reason why they should be there, it’s doing the random thing again maybe. moody thing.

    how can something called a “death panel” be even given credence…the alarmist tactics are such cheap shots at gathering the gullible and negative thinking populace and it’s obvious that their irrationality is being egged on by the fear and hate mongers. the negative messages are being spread like the virus that the disease of ignorance breeds. this scene is reminiscent of the negative campaigns that the mccain/palin camp was putting out last year. it’s a good thing the majority of america still has good sense and intelligence.


  11. kay~ms said

    Sarah Palin: Concerning the “Death Panels”Sarah Palin’s Notes
    Concerning the “Death Panels”
    Wed at 8:55pm
    Yesterday President Obama responded to my statement that Democratic health care proposals would lead to rationed care; that the sick, the elderly, and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system these “unproductive” members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care.

    The President made light of these concerns. He said:

    “Let me just be specific about some things that I’ve been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here. The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for death panels that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t, it’s too expensive to let her live anymore….It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, etc. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything.” [1]

    The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” [2] With all due respect, it’s misleading for the President to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients. The issue is the context in which that information is provided and the coercive effect these consultations will have in that context.

    Section 1233 authorizes advanced care planning consultations for senior citizens on Medicare every five years, and more often “if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual … or upon admission to a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility… or a hospice program.” [3] During those consultations, practitioners must explain “the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice,” and the government benefits available to pay for such services. [4]

    Now put this in context. These consultations are authorized whenever a Medicare recipient’s health changes significantly or when they enter a nursing home, and they are part of a bill whose stated purpose is “to reduce the growth in health care spending.” [5] Is it any wonder that senior citizens might view such consultations as attempts to convince them to help reduce health care costs by accepting minimal end-of-life care? As Charles Lane notes in the Washington Post, Section 1233 “addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones…. If it’s all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what’s it doing in a measure to “bend the curve” on health-care costs?” [6]

    As Lane also points out:

    Though not mandatory, as some on the right have claimed, the consultations envisioned in Section 1233 aren’t quite “purely voluntary,” as Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) asserts. To me, “purely voluntary” means “not unless the patient requests one.” Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive — money — to do so. Indeed, that’s an incentive to insist.

    Patients may refuse without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority. Once they’re in the meeting, the bill does permit “formulation” of a plug-pulling order right then and there. So when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) denies that Section 1233 would “place senior citizens in situations where they feel pressured to sign end-of-life directives that they would not otherwise sign,” I don’t think he’s being realistic. [7]

    Even columnist Eugene Robinson, a self-described “true believer” who “will almost certainly support” “whatever reform package finally emerges”, agrees that “If the government says it has to control health-care costs and then offers to pay doctors to give advice about hospice care, citizens are not delusional to conclude that the goal is to reduce end-of-life spending.” [8]

    So are these usually friendly pundits wrong? Is this all just a “rumor” to be “disposed of”, as President Obama says? Not according to Democratic New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Chairman of the New York State Senate Aging Committee, who writes:

    Section 1233 of House Resolution 3200 puts our senior citizens on a slippery slope and may diminish respect for the inherent dignity of each of their lives…. It is egregious to consider that any senior citizen … should be placed in a situation where he or she would feel pressured to save the government money by dying a little sooner than he or she otherwise would, be required to be counseled about the supposed benefits of killing oneself, or be encouraged to sign any end of life directives that they would not otherwise sign. [9]

    Of course, it’s not just this one provision that presents a problem. My original comments concerned statements made by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a health policy advisor to President Obama and the brother of the President’s chief of staff. Dr. Emanuel has written that some medical services should not be guaranteed to those “who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens….An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.” [10] Dr. Emanuel has also advocated basing medical decisions on a system which “produces a priority curve on which individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated.” [11]

    President Obama can try to gloss over the effects of government authorized end-of-life consultations, but the views of one of his top health care advisors are clear enough. It’s all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing, and more evidence that the top-down plans of government bureaucrats will never result in real health care reform.

    – Sarah Palin


  12. kay~ms said

    yeah… I hadn’t taken the time until now to read Sarah Palin’s facebook post. I wanted to post it here so you all would be sure to read it ( it’s awaiting moderation ). And then I’d really like to get some honest (unbiased) liberal opinions…. I think Palin makes some very strong arguments… I certainly wouldn’t call them “alarmist tactics” and “cheap shots”. Besides.. liberals have that market cornered.

    John makes an excellent point… just flat out denying that rationed healthcare is not a real possibility is Obama biased liberal ignorance.


  13. kay~ms said

    P, I can tell you that just before my grandmother passed away, which, even though she wasn’t expected to go anytime soon, she somehow knew she was going to. We had a moment one day where she smiled at me and I knew she was saying that she knew her time was up and she was more than fine with it.. she was smiling! She loved Jesus. She always signed all of our birthday cards with “My motto: Jesus first, others second, myself last”. There are many Christians who DO look forward to the end of their lives here and the beginning of their lives with our Lord. And I know that is where my grandmother is now.


  14. Anonymous said

    Rationed healthcare is what we have been having in France for a long time now, and it’s rather cool. Some illnesses are 100% covered, some are not (just 50% covered for example), and there’s private insurances to compensate.

    Of course our system isn’t perfect, and suffers from chronical deficit, but it had been beneficiary once… And the ageing of the population weight a lot on our system.

    I think that nothern countries have even a better system.

    Let’s face it Kay, I’ve read parts of the bill, and it looks like the things we have in Europe… And it’s working approximately good. At least we don’t have to show our insurance card to be accepted in a hospital.


  15. Hors Service said

    Oops, again forgotten. It was me.

    “awaiting moderation” seems to happen to big posts, no?


  16. kay~ms said

    Hors, does Sarkozy have a “health policy advisor” who advocates a system which “produces a priority curve on which individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated”? We DO… and it scares us… if that’s not socialism or even Marxism.. I don’t know what is.

    Again, I would like healthcare reform… Obama is PREVENTING this from happening.


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