During the health care debate, The Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages have provided a forum for serial misinformers Betsy McCaughey, Jim Towey, and Sarah Palin to spread false claims of mandatory end-of-life counseling, a "Death Book for Veterans," and "death panels," respectively. Most recently, the Journal published an op-ed by Palin, in which she backtracked from her initial claim that a provision in a House reform bill would create death panels, but maintained that reform opponents are justifiably concerned that "Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead" to death panels.
WSJ publishes Palin's revised "death panels" claim despite thorough debunking of her first one
Reviving "death panels" smear, Palin suggests health care reform "will ultimately lead to rationing" by "death panels." From Palin's September 8 Journal op-ed:
Now look at one way Mr. Obama wants to eliminate inefficiency and waste: He's asked Congress to create an Independent Medicare Advisory Council -- an unelected, largely unaccountable group of experts charged with containing Medicare costs. In an interview with the New York Times in April, the president suggested that such a group, working outside of "normal political channels," should guide decisions regarding that "huge driver of cost ... the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives ... "
Given such statements, is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by -- dare I say it -- death panels?
Media have debunked the death panels claim more than 40 times over. In one of more than 40 media reports debunking claims of euthanasia and "death panels," PolitiFact wrote: "We've looked at the inflammatory claims that the health care bill encourages euthanasia. It doesn't. There's certainly no 'death board' that determines the worthiness of individuals to receive care. ... [Palin] said that the Democratic plan will ration care and '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.' Palin's statement sounds more like a science fiction movie (Soylent Green, anyone?) than part of an actual bill before Congress. We rate her statement Pants on Fire!" [PolitiFact.com, 8/10/09]
WSJ has similarly provided forum for McCaughey's health care falsehoods
McCaughey falsely claimed in WSJ op-ed that House reform bill will "pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely." In a July 23 Journal op-ed, McCaughey falsely claimed the House Democrats' tri-committee health care reform bill will "pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely," referring to a provision in the bill that she characterized as "ensur[ing] that seniors are counseled on end-of-life options, including refusing nutrition where state law allows it." In fact, the "Advance Care Planning Consultation" section of the bill McCaughey refers to simply amends the Medicare Act to allow coverage for patients to receive counseling about end-of-life care options every five years if they so choose. Moreover, prominent medical societies have supported such counseling.
In the same op-ed, McCaughey also distorted the stimulus bill's "comparative effectiveness research" provision. In her July 23 Journal op-ed, McCaughey also wrote: "The assault against seniors began with the stimulus package in February. Slipped into the bill was substantial funding for comparative effectiveness research, which is generally code for limiting care based on the patient's age." She later added, "In Britain, the formula leads to denying treatments for older patients who have fewer years to benefit from care than younger patients." McCaughey was misrepresenting a provision in the recovery act that establishes a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research and calls for funding to "be used to accelerate the development and dissemination of research assessing the comparative effectiveness of health care treatments and strategies" and for the Health and Human Services secretary to "consider any recommendations" by the council. The law in no way empowers the council to dictate which treatments may or may not be prescribed and, in fact, specifically states that "[n]othing in this section shall be construed to permit the Council to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer."
In August WSJ op-ed, McCaughey distorted Ezekiel Emanuel's remarks to smear him as "Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief." In an August 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed, McCaughey distorted various passages of Emanuel's writings and interviews by cropping and misrepresenting his remarks to smear him as "Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief." In the op-ed, McCaughey backtracked from her false claim that Emanuel wanted to "eliminate" the Hippocratic Oath, but wrongly asserted that Emanuel "blames the Hippocratic Oath for the 'overuse' of medical care." In fact, as Media Matters for America noted, Emanuel argued in a June 18, 2008, piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association that the "physician culture" in which "meticulousness, not effectiveness, is rewarded" has led physicians to interpret the Hippocratic Oath "as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of cost or effect on others."
WSJ also published Towey op-ed promoting "Death Book" distortion
Towey claimed in WSJ that VHA booklet will "steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living." On August 18, the Journal published an op-ed by Towey titled, "The Death Book for Veterans," in which Towey criticized a Veterans Health Administration (VHA)-promoted booklet on advanced care planning directives that he claimed will "steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living." However, the booklet emphasizes that "your wishes will direct future health care decisions" and presents preserving one's life "using any means possible" as an option to consider. An August 23 post by VoteVets.org blogger Richard Smith criticized Towey's assertion that the booklet presents "end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions," writing: "Really, if the document was really trying to get veterans to pull the plug on themselves, then first suggesting to them that their life should be prolonged at all costs is a pretty stupid way to do it" [emphasis in original].