After repeated debunkings of "death panels," conservative media backtrack to "de facto death panels"

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

Just as former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey backtracked on her false claim that the House health care reform bill would "absolutely require" end-of-life counseling, other conservative media figures are hedging their support for former Gov. Sarah Palin's false claim that the health care bill would create government "death panels" to decide who lives and dies. These conservatives are allowing that there won't be actual "death panels," but also claiming that the bill itself will inevitably lead to the government making end-of-life medical decisions, or as a Fox News chyron put it: "De Facto Death Panels."

McCaughey was forced to backtrack from her claim

After repeatedly falsely asserting that House Democrats' health care reform bill makes end-of-life counseling for seniors "mandatory," McCaughey was forced to backtrack from that claim after it was demonstrated to be false, saying she was right about the effect (if not the literal wording) of the legislation. According to a July 28 Politico article, when asked about criticism of the claim, McCaughey stated that "[i]n so many words" the bill would make end-of-life counseling mandatory because "although it is presented in the bill as a Medicare service, when a doctor or a nurse approaches an elderly person who is in poor health, facing a decline in health, and raises these issues, it is not offering a service. It is pressuring them."

"Death panels" has been shot down over and over again

Media debunked claim more than 40 times. Media Matters for America documented numerous instances of the media debunking right-wing claims that the House health care reform bill would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, including Palin's "death panel" claim and McCaughey's claim that that the bill would "absolutely require" that seniors on Medicare undergo end-of-life counseling "that will tell them how to end their life sooner."

Conservative media following McCaughey in backpedaling

Faced with repeated debunkings, conservative media figures have begun claiming that there won't be any actual government-run "death panels," but that the health care bill will have the same effect as a "death panel" through "rationing" of end-of-life care.

Fox News suggests "Defacto Death Panels." The August 19 edition of Fox & Friends featured a discussion with Fox News contributor Dick Morris about his August 17 New York Post column alleging that Democratic health care reform proposals amount to "one giant death panel." During the segment, on-screen text read, "Defacto Death Panels? Obama Plan Could Result in Rationing":

From the August 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Seventeen minutes after the top of the hour. Democrats have been scrambling to put to bed the rumors that death panels that will decide the fate of your loved ones is a part of health care reform. But our next guest says it doesn't matter, because the whole bill is one giant death panel. Joining us now is Fox News contributor Dick Morris, the author of The New York Times best-seller Catastrophe. Good morning to you, Dick.

MORRIS: Good morning, Gretchen.

CARLSON: All right, you're one to tell it like it is. So you're saying that whether or not they get rid of these panels, the whole thing is still a death panel? What do you mean?

MORRIS: Yeah, I mean, there never was a three-judge body that would say you're gonna live or you're gonna die. The reason that people spoke about death panels is because there was end-of-life information and living wills and counseling, which isn't a bad idea. The problem is that people were forced into it -- or will be forced into it under this bill because they're going to make major cuts in Medicare and expand the number of patients without expanding the number of doctors.

So patients are going to be told at the age of 75 or 80, no, you can't have that bypass surgery, you can't have that advanced cancer drug. And then the patient says, but I'll die without it. And they'll say, well, we're sorry, you just can't have it. And at that point, yeah, you need end-of-life counseling, because they're confronting you with the end of your life. And it's -- the system inevitably is one that forces people to make those kinds of decisions, because it closes off their other options because they're inefficient.

Morris: "The whole 'reform' scheme is one giant death panel in its own right." From Morris' and Eileen McGann's August 17 New York Post column:

Washington is all atwitter about "death panels": President Obama derides the idea that his health-care reform calls for them; the Senate is stripping "end of life" counseling language from its bill -- and last Friday the voice of the liberal establishment, The New York Times, ran a Page One story "rebutting" the rumor that ObamaCare would create such boards to decide when to pull the plug on elderly patients.

But all those protests miss the fundamental truth of the "death panel" charge.

Even without a federal board voting on whom to kill, ObamaCare will ration care extensively, leading to the same result. This follows inevitably from central features of the president's plan.

[...]

In short, ObamaCare doesn't need to set up "death panels" to make retail decisions about ending the lives of individual patients. The whole "reform" scheme is one giant death panel in its own right.

Glenn Beck: "The death panel isn't a firing squad. Sarah Palin made a point -- I guess you could say in an inflammatory way." From the August 14 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: The death panel isn't a firing squad. Sarah Palin made a point -- I guess you could say in an inflammatory way. But when you implement a government health system, as they have found out in the U.K. and everywhere else on the planet, you are left with no other choice. That's just the way it is. Rationing is inevitable, and they know it. When -- when will someone in the media expose all of the lies?

[...]

BECK: Anyway, tell me about -- am I wrong in saying, without any inflammatory speech here -- don't call them death panels, just let's call them what they are. You have a certain amount of money and a certain amount of people. You can't -- they don't -- you can't give everything to everybody. Isn't it inevitable that you have to make tough choices?

DR. RAND PAUL (Kentucky Taxpayers United): Well, you know, the president says he's not going to pull the plug on grandma, but I think what he really means is he's not going to put the plug in in the first place. Because you have to decide -- some committee is going to decide what is the cost-benefit analysis for grandma?

BECK: Right.

PAUL: Grandma is not just your grandmother, she's a statistic. And we have to decide, what is the cost to society to keep her alive? And I think she won't get plugged in. Her ventilator won't be plugged in if she's 92 years old --

BECK: Right.

PAUL: -- because society may say we don't have enough money to do that.

Robert Painter: Palin warned of "slippery slope" to "hospital-run" death panels. From attorney Robert Painter's August 19 Washington Times op-ed:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who says President Obama's heath care reform would result in "death panels," needs to look no further than Texas to see a slippery slope like the one she envisions.

In Texas, a legislative provision that many thought was an innocuous proposal to help people has been twisted to snatch end-of-life decisions out of the hands of families.

The provision to which Mrs. Palin refers, Section 1233 of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, would allow Medicare to pay doctors to counsel or steer end-of-life decisions for a patient every five years or more often "if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual" or an admission to a nursing home or long-term care facility. Both the White House and some members of Congress dispute Mrs. Palin's contention about how this language would play out, but based on what has happened in Texas, Americans should heed her warning.

One of the drawbacks of trying to overhaul an industry as large and sweeping as health care on the short schedule demanded by the president is that there is not time to study how the legislation would work in the context of existing state law.

The truth is, for many states, Mrs. Palin's assessment likely is dead-on, except the "death panels" would be hospital-run, not government-run. Consider Texas. The Texas Advance Directives Act of 1999 became law with support from a broad ideological spectrum, but one of its unintended consequences has been astounding. When a patient or family wants health care to continue but the attending physician does not, the Texas law allows a hospital committee to have the final say under the amorphous concept of "medical futility."

[...]

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, is rightly concerned that the end-of-life provisions in the proposed federal law could be "misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly." Federal lawmakers interested in protecting individual and patient rights need to study carefully the end-of-life provisions with the understanding that the law will be implemented in health care settings governed under 50 different sets of state law.

Admittedly, the warning of "death panels" is a shocking claim. But when I inform people of the effect of the Texas law and how it has trampled on individual rights, they are understandably shocked. If the Texas Advance Directives Act has shown us anything, it is that governments should leave end-of-life decisions to patients and their families.

John Stossel: "Even if some conservative Republican critics are wrong about Section 1233, there is good reason to worry about Obama's nationalization scheme." From ABC 20/20 anchor John Stossel's August 19 Townhall.com column:

False charges about Obamacare don't help.

Like the end-of-life tempest. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin popularized the term "death panels." She said: "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 their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care".

The charge that the House and Senate health care bills would mandate end-of-life counseling -- hence "death panels" -- caught on. Rush Limbaugh, defending Palin's charge, said, "(D)eath panels ... it's a great way to phrase this end-of-life counseling."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa piled on: "You have every right to fear. ... We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

But no bill in Congress mandates end-of-life counseling, much less "death panels." And there's a deeper problem. When opponents of nationalization make such easily refuted charges, supporters of nationalization gain the upper hand. All criticism is undermined. Neutral observers can easily conclude, "If the death-panel claim is false, why believe anything else the critics say?"

That would be a disaster.

[...]

But even if some conservative Republican critics are wrong about Section 1233, there is good reason to worry about Obama's nationalization scheme.

The reason can be found in Econ 101. Medical care doesn't grow on trees. It must be produced by human and physical capital, and those resources are limited. Therefore, if demand for health care services increases -- which is Obama's point in extending health insurance -- prices must go up. But somehow Obama also promises, "I won't sign a bill that doesn't reduce health care inflation."

This is magical thinking. Obama, talented as he is, can't repeal the laws of supply and demand. Costs are real. If they are incurred, someone has to pay them. But as economist Thomas Sowell points out, politicians can control costs -- by refusing to pay for the services.

It's called rationing.

Advocates of nationalization hate that word because it forces them to face an ugly truth. If government pays for more people's health care and wants to control costs, it must limit what we buy.

So much for Obama's promise not to interfere with our freedom of choice.

This brings us back to end-of-life consultation. As the government's health care budget becomes strained, as it must -- and, as Obama admits, already is under Medicare -- the government will have to cut back on what it lets people have.

So it is not a leap to foresee government limiting health care, especially to people nearing the end of life. Medical "ethicists" have long lamented that too much money is spent futilely in the last several months of life. Are we supposed to believe that the social engineers haven't read their writings?

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