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The Death Panel Lie – Conservative Dishonesty in the Health Care Reform Debate

The Death Panel Lie – Conservative Dishonesty in the Health Care Reform Debate

So the opponents of health care reform are sticking with the “death panel” talking point and the mob tactics it inspires.  Admittedly, the strategy has yielded some results for…  well, it’s unclear what they want aside from railing against President Obama.  Regardless, the anti-reform crowd finally landed a punch.  Good for them, I suppose.  Conservatives have been flailing wildly since Obama took office with little to show for it, save a lot of embarrassing You Tube clips.  Despite this, there is reason to remain optimistic about getting a reform bill ready for Obama’s signature this year.

Among the ethically challenged Republicans maintaining the “Death Panel” myth are Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Iowa senator, Chuck Grassley.  All three of them are political opportunists, frankly, playing upon the fears of their dwindling, radical constituencies.  At this time and in this debate, it is a losing political strategy.

Grassley’s Folly:

Grassley’s jumping on the crazy train isn’t much of a surprise, but it was unnecessary.  Representing one of the most aged state populations in the U.S., the senator must have felt safer stoking the fear, rather than rebutting it.  However, during his recess town halls, Grassley has failed to mention he — along with many other Republicans — voted in favor of a similar measure in 2003.

From Amy Sullivan at TIME.com’s Swampland Blog, August 13, 2009:

Remember the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, the one that passed with the votes of 204 GOP House members and 42 GOP Senators? Anyone want to guess what it provided funding for? Did you say counseling for end-of-life issues and care? Ding ding ding!!

Let’s go to the bill text, shall we? “The covered services are: evaluating the beneficiary’s need for pain and symptom management, including the individual’s need for hospice care; counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” The only difference between the 2003 provision and the infamous Section 1233 that threatens the very future and moral sanctity of the Republic is that the first applied only to terminally ill patients. Section 1233 would expand funding so that people could voluntarily receive counseling before they become terminally ill.

Palin’s Density:

As much as I would prefer not to mention Sarah Palin, her peculiar insistence upon furthering the “Death Panel” lie demands it.  It is fitting, though, that her efforts are now publicized via Facebook rather than Governor’s Office press releases.  Her August 7, 2009 post on the subject is the one that really gave the term “Death Panel” its legs within the mainstream media:

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. Such a system is downright evil…

Palin followed up this lunacy with a call for civility during the health care reform town halls scheduled by Alaska’s representatives in an August 9 Facebook post.  While it wasn’t a reversal of her previous post, it was a tacit admission that her rhetoric, at least in part, added fuel to the thuggish nonsense displayed by the right-wing at town hall discussions elsewhere.

Then she did something remarkably dense.  Sarah Palin, following the above mentioned comments from Sen. Grassley, declared victory against the dreaded death panel legislation within her August 13 post:

I join millions of Americans in expressing appreciation for the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to remove the provision in the pending health care bill that authorizes end-of-life consultations (Section 1233 of HR 3200). It’s gratifying that the voice of the people is getting through to Congress; however, that provision was not the only disturbing detail in this legislation; it was just one of the more obvious ones.

Forget for a moment that Sarah Palin had, to put it kindly, a questionable record as Governor of Alaska when it came to elder care.  Her above assertion displays a profound ignorance, not only of the present health care reform debate, but also of the basic mechanisms of the legislative process.

First, the Senate Finance Committee has nothing to do with HR 3200.  The “HR” is for House of Representatives, of course, and HR 3200 is but one of five health care bills being considered by that body.  Second, there is a Senate bill being considered by the Finance Committee, however both Houses of Congress are presently in recess.  They are not presently “removing” provisions, or adding them for that matter.

Finally, Palin’s suggestion that the “provision was not the only disturbing detail in this legislation,” is simply another fear tactic.  One she likely learned from her new mentor:  Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s Hypocrisy:

Gingrich is supposed to be the conservative with the most formidable intellectual chops; yet, when he attempted to defend Palin’s comments on ABC’s August 9 broadcast of This Week, he complained about the bill’s length.  “The bill is a thousand pages of setting up mechanisms,” he said. “You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

Sounds scary, right?  However, consider the former House Speaker’s own words from a July 2, 2009 article at The Washington Post:

More than 20 percent of all Medicare spending occurs in the last two months of life. Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin has developed a successful end-of-life, best practice that combines: 1) community-wide advance care planning, where 90 percent of patients have advance directives; 2) hospice and palliative care; and 3) coordination of services through an electronic medical record. The Gundersen approach empowers patients and families to control and direct their care. The Dartmouth Health Atlas has documented that Gundersen delivers care at a 30 percent lower rate than the national average ($18,359 versus $25,860). If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.

The emphasis added to the above — again, they are Gingrich’s words — describes, in general terms, what the current health care legislation-in-progress is designed to do.  It is the same idea for reform.  It is the same proposal which Sen. Grassley told his constituents they were right to fear, that Sarah Palin claimed victory for killing, and Newt Gingrich thought was such a good idea just a few short months ago.

Reasons For Optimism:

The “death panel” talking point has absolutely no basis in fact.  It is a false argument, and its success is contingent upon fear:  frightening the oldest among us into thinking their country wants to kill them.  (Wow!  I had to wash my hands after typing the preceding sentence…  Stay classy, conservatives).

The hypocrisy, fear mongering, and intellectual dishonesty described above have been employed by conservatives for years.  They are the same cynical strategies that have been employed in the fight against health care reform since the Truman administration.   They are also the same tactics that were employed against Obama during the 2008 campaign.  Obama’s election, then, is proof positive that this cynicism can be defeated.

Progressive advocates for health care, myself included, and members of the punditocracy have been highly critical of the president for pursuing this reform agenda in an bipartisan fashion.  As Thom Hartmann often says, “We have to hope that Obama is playing chess and not checkers,” with this contentious issue.  Without going into further detail, Obama doesn’t strike me as a checkers man.

In closing, it is important to note that, while optimism for health care reform is warranted, complacency is not.  Tell your representatives you want meaningful reform by signing this petition:  Support Historic Health Care Bill

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Image from Flickr.com user, ajagendorf25 ~ By way of CreativeCommons.org

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152 comments

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6:11PM PDT on Mar 24, 2011

The regressive Republican Party of No is mean-spirited, thuggish, religiously fanatical, scientifically ignorant, corrupt, hypocritical, xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, evolution and global warming denying, oily, authoritarian, selfish, greedy, lacking compassion, warmongering, and otherwise dangerous.

NEVER vote for Republicans.

11:41AM PDT on Mar 24, 2011

Well, the dirty tricks used - lies, lies and downright lies. The fact that they even said having decent healthcare is Unamerican, they really are getting to the point when political debate is nothing more than a collective slagging match. Still even the fact that they did not know that Professor Hawking lived in the UK shows the sheer ignorance of the Conservatives.

1:32PM PST on Jan 10, 2010

noted with thanks

12:04AM PDT on Sep 9, 2009

I think Nancy H has been watching too many television series. Writers often use this 'heart attack' injection in their story lines.

However, there is an injection that can emulate a heart attack (a large dose of potassium chloride does it) but that is illegal, except perhaps in States/Countries where abortion is legal - then it is used to abort in the 2nd & 3rd trimesters ( NOT starting a debate on abortion here ). It has also been used as the 3rd and final injection in a JUDICIAL execution by lethal injection. Orally potassium chloride per ounce > body weight is toxic / lethal at worst... BUT ... table salt in the same large quantities has the same effect. Dr. "Death" (Kavorkian) used potassium chloride in his thanatron machine - we all know where he now sits within the law don't we ?
Odd - it is used (very carefully I hope) in food processing, and not so odd - in fertiliser. Now there's an irony .... it so resembles the **** (fertiliser) floating around on the internet and in newspapers about these so called "Death Panels" ....

I am an Australian and couldn't be happier with the care we get from our Government through the our own Health Care system for which workers pay a small levy. Pensioners pay nothing. I have personal testimony to it's excellence. [People here still have the choice of privately insuring, but it is very expensive]. Wake up to yourselves over there, and GET A LIFE away from fear and fearmongering. Anne B.

4:21PM PDT on Sep 8, 2009

Nancy H. as the gentleman above says, it's pure politics; rich bozos, and many other uniformed people, who have convinced themselves they have the right to tell others how to live, and what they should think, read, wear, learn, watch on TV or in the movies, what music to listen to, what religion was approved by them, and even how you should look. They think they can dictate when a person can be born (No abortions, for heavens sake how am I going to look like a man if my living trophies aren't walking around for others to see!) and when they may pass on (Assisted suicide, or choosing to end one's own life when existence has become unbearable? Nonsense, how are all my rich doctor friends, and insurance company buddies going to make a profit if we can't leech money from all the hospital, medical, prescription, insurance cost charges. Life must be prolonged at all cost. You can't make money from a dead patient!)Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Rielly, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, and Gnut Gingrich would set themselves up as dictators, to PERSONALLY lay down the rules as they see them. Do this, but not that; think what I tell you to, and never form your own thoughts; follow MY rules or be severely punished; dress like I do, wear your hair like I do, listen to the same music as I listen to, NEVER, EVER read a book, magazine, news article, or internet page unless I have approved it beforehand, follow MY religion and NEVER that one, torture is cool, and a great way to get information, so long as th

3:47PM PDT on Sep 8, 2009

Original Message:
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Jaette left a comment on the following article:



The Death Panel Lie - Conservative Dishonesty in the Health Care Reform Debate
Nancy H. Where are you getting this information about 'shots that cause heart attacks' Have you been listening to Rush Limdrug? I have read 3 of the 8 bills so far and have seen NOTHING regarding the junk that you are referring to in your Aug 28th comments. Could I just mention again, that it was the Health Insurance Companies that tried to refuse service to cancer patients and to Aids patients and yes, to elderly(thus medicare) and yes, to people with disabilities like my daughter(thus MA) Each time, the Government legislatively required them to continue cancer and aid treatments and the legislature set up Medicare and the legislature set up MA. Personally, I think the govt. has had to come to the aid of sick patients so often, that it would probably be a good thing if the 'fatted' health care companies went down in flames. These companies seem to only want to service the 'super' healthy group, some kind of supremacy race deal? Now, I just do not understand how that could happen because these companies were supposed to be 'non profit' that, therefore ,do not pay taxes, and yet, get to pick and choose whom they service. That's what needs to come up over and over again when discussing health care reform. The garbage that these Health Moguls have gotten away with. Golf anyone?

You seem to mis

3:18PM PDT on Sep 7, 2009

Nancy H. Where are you getting this information about 'shots that cause heart attacks' Have you been listening to Rush Limdrug?
I have read 3 of the 8 bills so far and have seen NOTHING regarding the junk that you are referring to in your Aug 28th comments.
Could I just mention again, that it was the Health Insurance Companies that tried to refuse service to cancer patients and to Aids patients and yes, to elderly(thus medicare) and yes, to people with disabilities like my daughter(thus MA) Each time, the Government legislatively required them to continue cancer and aid treatments and the legislature set up Medicare and the legislature set up MA. Personally, I think the govt. has had to come to the aid of sick patients so often, that it would probably be a good thing if the 'fatted' health care companies went down in flames. These companies seem to only want to service the 'super' healthy group, some kind of supremacy race deal? Now, I just do not understand how that could happen because these companies were supposed to be 'non profit' that, therefore ,do not pay taxes, and yet, get to pick and choose whom they service. That's what needs to come up over and over again when discussing health care reform. The garbage that these Health Moguls have gotten away with. Golf anyone?

11:05PM PDT on Sep 4, 2009

Nancy H. is still lying I see...

7:23PM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

One other thing, the Death Panel thing is just a scare tactic used by the liberals who are justifying what the fine print is really saying. The right to die is for the benefit of the insurance and medical personnel. One doesn't need end of life counseling if every state like mine made available a "pain free" death, I watched my Mom slip away with the help of "pain" meds that put her in a coma that she didn't come out of, how easy was that? She went to sleep and passed on. What they want to do is give you a shot that also gives you a heart attack, that isn't always painless, as a nurse I've seen that as well. I've read the fine print what it says is, if you are too old to receive a hip replacement(Gov would mandate what is too old)then you get end of life counseling, why not more powerful drugs for pain? We have no problem handing out needles and drugs to druggies but we can't help out the elderly or handicapped? Just let them know we can end it for you quick so you won't cost the Gov anymore money? We need reform but end of life counseling is like saying to them we won't fix ya we'll just kill ya, much cheaper that way!

7:10PM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

As a bi-partisan where are you all getting off saying only the republicans are against this bill? Do you just ignore the Democrats up there who oppose it as well, of course you do. Let's face it no matter who is in office the opposing party fights them tooth and nail, it's politics and nothing more. I didn't forget what Obama said about the health care reform, "The elderly are going to have to learn to live with conditions of getting older? Will he and his legislation, NADA you bet when they get older and the body starts to break down they will be running for the medical personel like anyone else. We are going to force the elderly to live with pain of getting older while giving medical assistance to the ones who are here illegally. This is America alright, continue to appease the illegals over the citizens!

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