Fact-Checking: Are Reports of "Death Panels" True or Not?

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a "death panel." Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.
Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:
Q: Does the health care legislation bill promote "mercy killing," or euthanasia?
A: No.
Q: Then what's all the fuss about?
A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.
The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.
Q: Is anything required?
Monsignor Charles Fahey, 76, a Catholic priest who is chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging, a nonprofit service and advocacy group, says no.
"We have to make decisions that are deliberative about our health care at every moment," Fahey said. "What I have said is that if I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini -- then let me go."
Q: Does the bill advocate assisted suicide?
A: No. It would block funds for counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.
Q: Who supports the provision?
A: The American Medical Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Consumers Union are among the groups supporting the provision. AARP, the seniors' lobby, is taking out print advertisements this week that label as false the claim that the legislation will empower the government to take over life-and-death decisions from individuals.
Q: Should the federal government be getting involved with living wills and end-of-life questions -- decisions that are highly personal and really difficult?
A: It already is.
The government requires hospitals to ask adult patients if they have a living will, or "advance directive." If the patient doesn't have one, and wants one, the hospital has to provide assistance. The mandate on hospitals was instituted during a Republican administration, in 1992, under President George H.W. Bush.
Q: How does a living will work, and how is it different from a health care proxy?
A: A living will -- also called an advance directive -- spells out a patient's wishes if he or she becomes incapacitated. Often people say they don't want to be kept alive on breathing machines if their condition is terminal and irreversible.
A health care proxy empowers another person to make medical decisions should the patient become incapacitated.
There's also a power-of-attorney, which authorizes another person to make financial decisions for someone who is incapacitated.
Such legal documents have become standard estate-planning tools in the last twenty years.
Q: Would the health overhaul legislation change the way people now deal with making end-of-life decisions?
A: It very well could.
Supporters of the provision say the main consequence would be to formally bring doctors into a discussion that now takes place mainly among family members and lawyers.
"When you execute a legal document with your lawyer, it ends up in your files and in the lawyer's files," said John Rother, a senior policy and strategy adviser for AARP. "Unless the doctor is part of this discussion, it's unlikely that your wishes will be respected. The doctor will be the one involved in any decisions."
The American Medical Association says involving doctors is simple common sense.
"There has been a lot of misinformation about the advance care planning provisions in the bill," AMA President Dr. James Rohack said in a statement. "It's plain, old-fashioned medical care."
Q: So why are some people upset?
Some social conservatives say stronger language is needed to protect seniors from being pressured into signing away their rights to medical treatment in a moment of depression or despair.
The National Right to Life Committee opposes the provision as written.
"I'm not aware of 'death panels' in the bill," said David O'Steen, executive director of the group. "I'm not aware of anything that says you will be hauled before a government bureaucrat. But we are concerned ... it doesn't take a lot to push a vulnerable person -- perhaps unwittingly -- to give up their right to life-sustaining treatment."
The White House says it is countering false claims with a "reality check" page on its Web site, www.whitehouse.gov.

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  • by St. James Location: St. Johns on Aug 11, 2009 at 11:17 AM
    What freights me is how willing some are, handing over health care to same people who have screwed this country up. Yes, Jimmy it is a fact that both Rep. and Dem., Black and White in D.C. have did a number on all of us. The facts of this article are missing, because the health care bill is a rough draft passed only by committees in the House and state it as fact. You and the AP are missing the final facts of the bill, but your so willing to go along with the "Democrat in the White House" becuase he is Black? The margin I have been pushed in to seems to agree with me on health care and not your PeBO. Why does PeBO want to take away from 85% of the public that is satified with there health care, just to help your small margin, if its not socialism? Holly, you couldn't be futher from the "facts" in how I make a living. Just a guy in the margins, who doesn't want a Rep. or Dem. stealing my money to give themselves power over me. I gladly pay for sevices I use, the rest is theft.
  • by jen on Aug 11, 2009 at 08:41 AM
    These comments are scary,it shows the ignorants of misinformed people, the health care plan is not godd for anyone.There has to be a better way to care for everyone,I like Sara Palin,She's the only one who is telling the truth about this Healthcare,the govt is shoving down our thoat,If it's so wonderful, why don't the govt get on the same plan? why do they get a better plan,one that covers them now and in their ederly years?
  • by Anonymous on Aug 11, 2009 at 08:09 AM
    Yes because the decisions of the CDC represent what our elected officials say, come on Marlene, get with the program here. I'm am SOOOOOOOO sick and tired of this weak argument that the Elected Officials control everything. The world is an imperfect place, it can never truly be perfect but because Americans virtually hand over their money to Corporations who then take THAT SAME MONEY and spend it on further subjigating the rest of society. If the Pharmaceutical Companies and Insurance Companies wouldn't have let Corporate Greed take over to the point where they were actually taking money taxpayers gave them and used it to pay off Politicians to further screw over the rest of the citizens. If the people of this country would have put a stop to this a long time ago we wouldn't be in the situation we are currently in, but alas, we didn't so we're stuck with our own mistakes. It has nothing, I repeat, NOTHING to do with what the Administration thinks of the value of Human Life. Get Real
  • by Holly Location: Charlotte on Aug 11, 2009 at 05:41 AM
    So, St. James, do you work for the insurance agencies or do you work for a drug company? Because anyone who can read knows better.
  • by Jimmy Location: Lansing on Aug 11, 2009 at 05:39 AM
    To St. James: How is this article slanted? Because it has facts in it? Do facts frighten you? Is everything about your world coming crashing down, now that we have a democrat in the white house...who is black no less? Call it socialism or whatever you want to falsely label it...it all boils down to this: The world is changing, either change with it or be pushed to the margins. That's advice I'm sure you won't follow. Every comment you post on this site is slanted so far right I'm sure you are wrong.
  • by St. James Location: St. Johns on Aug 11, 2009 at 03:08 AM
    Is PeBO now reporting for the Associated Press? This article is a perfect example of why people distrust whats going on. What a slanted article!!!
  • by Barb Location: Lansing on Aug 10, 2009 at 11:45 PM
    I find it amazing that so many people are freaking out about this and thinking people are going to go to their house and ask them how they want to die when the govt didnt even have enough people to check on abuse for kids like Ricky Holland. All I can say is if people are that concerned about their health care then stop over eating,eat healthy,stop smoking, drinking, doing drugs, fighting with their families and neighbors and practice the golden rule! That will be the best health plan you can have but I guess it is easier to just complain and have drama than just be disciplined and do what best for you! People are going to die of heartattacks just because of getting so worked up over this and it is foolish!!
  • by Marlene Location: Williamston on Aug 10, 2009 at 08:41 PM
    The CDC H1N1 vaccination plan EXCLUDES people over 65. For the first time there is age discrimination in health care against senior citizens. This shows how the current administration thinks about the relative value of people . The health reform bill plans to fund health reform partly from money taken from Medicare, a system already headed for bankruptcy. These are reasons why senior's fear the health reform plan.
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