Time to end the ‘death panel’ hysteria

Let’s hope the drafters of health-care reform have the political courage to stand up to the "death panel" crowd.

However, there is evidence that the strident mischaracterization of a useful provision in the bill is having an effect. Simply put, the provision says that if you choose to discuss end-of-life issues with your doctor, Medicare will pay for the visit. And it will pay for one such session every five years, more often for someone who is seriously ill.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who should know better, said the provision had been dropped from a Senate draft of health-care reform because of the way it "could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly." If so, the senator and other members of the Finance Committee should rewrite the provision so it won’t be.

The most serious misrepresentation of the provision is that it opens the door to euthanasia as a way of controlling costs. The leading advocate of this canard is Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice-presidential candidate, who all but accused the Obama administration "death panels" of wanting to kill off her parents and youngest child.
It has been pointed out that as Alaska governor she signed a proclamation urging medical professionals to participate in end-of-life planning, only she called it "advance directives." If the phrase "advance directives" will ease public apprehensions, by all means call it that.

In fact, end-of-life planning exists in law now. Medicare requires hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to tell patients of their right to accept or refuse treatment and to urge them to make a "living will" and designate a proxy to see that it is carried out if they are incapacitated.

The New York Times has traced the origins of the "death panel" rumors to the right-wing press, which have been picked up and amplified by assorted right-wing talkers to batter President Obama’s planned health-care reforms. One suspects they’re against it, regardless of any merits the reforms have, simply because Obama is for it.

One way or another, end-of-life decisions will get made. This provision will help the patient to make them. The drafters of the bill should stand up to the hysteria and deceit to allow them to do so.