Death panels: A really stupid claim

After the "birthers," now come the "deathers."

Just as there were those who believed, in the face of all evidence, that President Obama’s birth certificate was a fake and that he was not really native born, there are those who believe, again against all evidence to the contrary, that Obama’s health-care reform has a provision that encourages, even requires, euthanasia.

This canard floated around the fringes of the Internet until Sarah Palin put it into mainstream play with a posting on her Facebook page:

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of the ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

It would be downright evil if it existed, but it doesn’t.

A more extreme formulation of the "death panel," sometimes called "Cash for Granny," insists that because so much money is spent on the last 60 days of life, encouraging the elderly or the terminally ill to check out early would generate savings to pay for the rest of "Obamacare."

What the bill would do, quite reasonably, is this: If patients want to consult their doctors about so-called "end-of-life" issues, Medicare is required to pay for one session every five years, more often in the case of the critically ill.

These sessions might include living wills, which hospitals are already required to explain; designating someone the patient trusts to make decisions in the event of incapacity; and a medical explanation of ventilators, catheters, feeding tubes, colostomy drains, the whole range of devices that can sustain the vital signs of the terminally ill. Some patients will want to be resuscitated, others will not. It is important that the patient make the choice and that the doctors know what it is.

One advocate of end-of-life planning is Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who can hardly be considered a tool of the Obama administration. The Washington Post asked him about the "death panels." His answer: "How someone could take an end-of-life directive or a living will as that is nuts."

But then, so much of our national discussion of health-care reform has been simply nuts.