After previously debunking “death panels,” NY Times portrays them as he said/she said

Reporting on the claim that a provision in the House health care bill that requires Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions would “set up 'death panels' to determine care for patients who are close to dying,” The New York Times portrayed the issue as a he said/she said debate, noting that health care reform supporters “deny” this charge and call the claim “a myth.” But the Times did not note, as its own reporters and columnists have previously, that such claims are indeed a myth and that under the provision, end-of-life counseling would in fact be voluntary.

NY Times: Obama and supporters “deny that a health care plan would set up 'death panels' ”

From the August 16 New York Times article:

The Obama administration and its Congressional supporters also continued to deny that a health care plan would set up “death panels” to determine care for patients who are close to dying.

Conservative opponents have accused the president of planning to set up panels that would decide which treatment an elderly or terminally ill patient might receive toward the end of life. But Ms. Sebelius, speaking on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said that all the administration was thinking about was reimbursing doctors who would engage in bedside consultations with families whose relatives are near death and who are “conflicted about what to do next.”

Unfortunately, she added, such a provision “is off the table” for now in the Senate Finance Committee because of the outcry.

“I think it's really horrific that some opponents of the health reform bill have used this painful, personal moment to try and scare people about what is in the bill,” she said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Ms. Sebelius said that reimbursing such discussions “isn't about cost-cutting” by reducing expenses of prolonged treatment at the end of life but simply an effort to “empower family members” and “help families make good decisions.”

“Often that doesn't happen,” she said.

As President Obama did Saturday by recalling his grandmother's death last year, Ms. Sebelius spoke of her mother, who spent 10 weeks in three hospitals at the end of her life. Only relatively late in the process, Ms. Sebelius said, did the family have a consultation with a doctor about what could and could not be done for her mother.

“It was the most agonizing, most painful, most terrible time for not only me and my siblings, but for my dad,” she said. “And what every family wants is good information and an ability to make a decision that suits their loved one the best way that the family is involved and engaged.” Speaking on “This Week,” Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, did not directly respond to a question about whether such panels were included in any of the proposals. But he spoke of “nameless bureaucrats” who would “ration health care,” and that such a burden would fall most heavily on the elderly, who would also suffer because of proposed Medicare cuts. Summoning his own personal illustration, Senator Hatch recalled how his parents both died at 89 and did not have their health care rationed.

Debating with him, Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Democrat who switched from the Republican Party earlier this year, noted that Senator Hatch had sidestepped the question about “death panels.”

“The fact of the matter is that it's a myth,” he said. “It's simply not true. There are no death panels.” Senator Specter invited his colleague to join Democrats in working out a bipartisan compromise, just as he had done with Senator Edward R. Kennedy of Massachusetts on the federal program that insures medical care for children. But Senator Hatch took the occasion to lament the number of children in that program who are being pushed under the umbrella of Medicaid.

The NY Times itself has repeatedly debunked “death panel” claims

NY Times: "[D]eath panels" claim is a “stubborn yet false rumor.” In an August 13 article headlined, “False 'Death Panel' Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots,” the Times reported:

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.


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.

NY Times reports “death panels” assertion “has no basis in any of the provisions of the legislative proposals.” In an August 12 article, the Times reported that Obama “took issue with critics who he said had distorted the debate to stoke fears that health changes will include 'death panels that will basically pull the plug on Grandma.' That charge, which has been widely disseminated, has no basis in any of the provisions of the legislative proposals under consideration in Congress; it appears to be based on a provision that would require Medicare to pay for doctors to counsel patients on end-of-life care.”

NY Times' Krugman: “Death panels” are “a complete fabrication.” In an August 13 column, Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

Right now, the charge that's gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create ''death panels'' (in Sarah Palin's words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It's a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican -- yes, Republican -- of Georgia, who says that it's ''nuts'' to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

NY Times' Brooks on “death panel” claim: “That's crazy.” On NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory said to Times columnist David Brooks, “There is the rhetoric; there's also the question of what's true and what's false in what people are arguing about this notion of a death panel.” Brooks responded, “Again, that's crazy. If the -- the crazies are attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that -- that's simply not true. That simply is not going to happen.” [Meet the Press, 8/9/09]

End-of-life care counseling would be voluntary

Provision calls for Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. Section 1233 of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 -- the provision former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin cited -- amends the Social Security Act to ensure that advance care planning will be covered if a patient requests it from a qualified care provider [America's Affordable Health Choices Act, Sec. 1233]. According to an analysis of the bill produced by the three relevant House committees, the section "[p]rovides coverage for consultation between enrollees and practitioners to discuss orders for life-sustaining treatment. Instructs CMS to modify 'Medicare & You' handbook to incorporate information on end-of-life planning resources and to incorporate measures on advance care planning into the physician's quality reporting initiative." [, accessed 8/13/09]