“Death panels” lie prevents dying with dignity

WASHINGTON — When Congress made its foolish 2005 foray   into the heartbreaking case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman kept alive for years in a vegetative state, I called my brother to reiterate my end-of-life directives. “Don’t let Mom interfere,” I told him sternly, knowing that parents can be irrational about letting go of a dying child.

My mother, however, is clear-eyed about her own demise. She, too, has assigned to my brother her medical care power of attorney, giving him legally-protected decision-making authority should she become too ill to issue instructions to a doctor.

Apparently, my mother and I are unusual. Though the certainty of death is one of the few things shared by every human, we tend to put off thinking about it. According to the Pew Research Center, only 29 percent of Americans reported having living wills in a 2006 poll. Even fewer have gone as far as my mother and I  — appointing a health care proxy.

Oddly, a loud and ill-informed band of activists has organized to make sure that Americans continue to procrastinate about end-of-life directives. In what has to be one of the strangest political battles fought in modern times, a motley assortment of Obama-haters, rightwing conspiracy theorists and Republican politicians have joined to ensure that more families struggle through painful Schiavo-like situations.

You may remember the infamous “death panels” fabrication, which reverberated through the political landscape in 2009. It was a falsehood jerry-rigged to a perfectly sane proposal — that Medicare pay doctors to ask patients a few questions: Have you thought about end-of-life directives? Do you want a living will?

The policy sought to take advantage of the great weakness of our health care system: it pays doctors for procedures, not outcomes. Given that, doctors would be more likely to raise the subject with patients if they were paid for the time they spent. If experience is any guide, patients are less likely to bring it up themselves. But any patient’s participation would have been purely voluntary. No one would have been forced to have the conversation.

From that thoughtful policy change, Sarah Palin and others spread the “death panels” lie, persuading millions of Americans that the federal government would empanel bureaucrats to decide when to “pull the plug on Granny.”

Because the falsehood proved so powerful, Democrats eliminated the end-of-life counseling provision from the health care reform bill passed last March. Medicare administrator Donald Berwick tried to resurrect the provision through a

directive from his office late last year, but he was overruled recently by Obama administration officials who feared more political controversy.

How sad. The irony is this: A failure to prepare for the inevitability of death ensures that doctors, nurses and hospital administrators will end up making end-of-life decisions for countless terminally ill patients. If patients feared losing their autonomy — the right to make a highly-charged and personal decision for themselves — they should have welcomed the new Medicare initiative. It makes sense to confront those matters while you’re still healthy enough to think clearly.

According to research published in the British Medical Journal, “Advance care planning improves end-of-life care and patient and family satisfaction and reduces stress, anxiety and depression in surviving relatives.” The research only confirms what common sense suggests.

When my father learned he had colon cancer— he was only 57 — he didn’t have much time to think about whether he wanted doctors to pursue extraordinary measures to keep him alive. His cancer had metastasized by the time it was discovered. He was dead seven weeks after diagnosis.

But he was fully cognizant — clear-headed and alert — for most of those final days, and he used the time wisely and well. He wrapped up duties at the church where he had served as a deacon for decades. He said good-bye to his children.

And he told my mother in no uncertain terms that he was ready to face the end. He wanted no extraordinary interventions. “Put me in a blue casket,” he said.

It was hard enough to lay my father to rest under those circumstances. I simply cannot imagine how painful it would have been if he been too sick to tell us how he wanted to die.

247 comments Add your comment

B

January 7th, 2011
3:11 pm

Yes , Cynthia: I read your post and was responding accordingly. The death panels exist despite the fact that the aforementioned language was removed from the bill. But you are arguing, it seems, that the language should have remained, and it’s that point with which I disagree.

Unfortunately, we all havevbeen frogs over the last how-many decades, allowing Big Bro to intrude more and more into our lives. I’m very excited about the fact that we seem to be–finally–recognizing how far the tentacles are. And we’re finally screamingENOUGH. So, no, we do not want government mandated counseling. And, yes, I was totally POed at the government’s response to the Schivo case. I can totally be right to life when it comes to murdering babies for the sake of convenience without claiming that it’s in any way a good thing to deny the elderly and infirm the right to death with dignity.

kevinbgoode

January 7th, 2011
3:11 pm

AngryRedMarsWoman sez: “you should be proud that you work hard, but not have pride in the state of being poor. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. When there are segments of society that believe it is “cool” to be on assistance or not work or just to be poor, then there is a problem.”
—————————————————————————-
Isn’t the conservative mantra that it is impossible to be work hard and be poor? Besides, I thought it was considered standard Republican belief that the goal of working hard is to eventually make money not working at all. So isn’t there a segment of the population who believes that “assistance” for themselves is being in a state of “not working” and living off of making “their” money “work” for them? Of course, we have no idea where that money came from . . .we just have to trust conservatives that they “worked” for it, even if it meant generating “convenience” fees as an employee of a bank.

dawg

January 7th, 2011
3:12 pm

I see where Robt Gibbs is leaving his job which pays $172,000/year and Obama says that’s a MODERATE amount of income, but he wants to tax those millionaires and billionaires who make $200,000/ year. Somehow this doesn’t quite make sense…

Logical Dude

January 7th, 2011
3:13 pm

David says: “I received a 50g IV of vitamin C once”

Why?

I ask because you see many items in health food stores claiming benefits, but also have the required note “Claims not evaluated by the FDA”. Was it for a cold? Cancer? Blood thinner?

If the FDA bans something, it’s usually because there is no benefit based on the claims.

I do agree wtih you on Medical Marijuana. Having a spouse with cancer, I saw how legal usage worked against nausea and pain with fewer side effects than the regular powerful pills.

Some People are misinformed

January 7th, 2011
3:13 pm

Are you people slow.
The goverment isn’t mandating anything. Read this slowly

IF YOU ELECT TO GET END OF LIFE COUNSELING, MEDICAE WILL PAY FOR IT.

This isn’t about you being forced into anything. It isn’t about the goverment saying whether you live or die..I swear, do some of yall have a comprehension problem.

ctucker

January 7th, 2011
3:14 pm

B@3:11, The health care law is online, all 2000-odd pages. Please give me the citation for the “death panels.”

kevinbgoode

January 7th, 2011
3:14 pm

B sez: “So, no, we do not want government mandated counseling.”
——————————————————————————————————
Of course not. We want private insurance company mandated “counseling” without any say in the procedure, any regulation, or any appeal when they deny benefits. After all, isn’t it the patriotic duty of the American people to pay duties to companies which promise services but have no requirement (and no government enforcement) for them to actually provide those services?

I see...

January 7th, 2011
3:17 pm

Death panels arose out of the fact that there will be rationing when the government gets involved in healthcare. And when rationing is involved some bureacrat is going to make a decision that essentially ends someone’s life. Whether it is a true death panel or not, I don’t know. Kinda like Social Security, nobody ever dreamed of there being more people drawing than paying.

ctucker

January 7th, 2011
3:17 pm

kevinbgoode@3:14, B gets an “F’ in reading comprehension, too. As my column says very clearly, any counseling would have been strictly voluntary.

ctucker

January 7th, 2011
3:18 pm

Some People are misinformed@As I’ve been reminded today, many of my readers are facts-averse. They live in an alternative reality

Azazel

January 7th, 2011
3:21 pm

about 12 years ago I did research for the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, who paid for extensive focus group data collection all over the US — about 60 groups in all.
The research had 2 purposes. One, collect attitudes about death and dying; and, two, how to package information about living wills or advanced directives.
Some highlights: – overwhelmingly,no one wanted to expend their savings on life support that would not lead to complete recovery; — no one wanted to continue living if their quality of life was compromised or diminished in some degree; –no one wanted to suffer pain and most were willing to acept experimental and potnetially lethal pain relief.
Additionally, this research was used to support the Oregon Right to Die Law.

Some People are misinformed

January 7th, 2011
3:21 pm

I blame FOX
Since Obama has been elected, that makes Fox the voice of the minority. And Fox could care less about facts. How in todays world can words be spelled as simple as we will pay for it get converted into Death Panels.

barking frog

January 7th, 2011
3:24 pm

A dignified Southern comedian once said that
it is better to be a wise man than to be a rich man
because a wise man can always freeload off a
rich man. Many of the rich suffer from wisdom envy.

ctucker

January 7th, 2011
3:26 pm

Azazel@3:21, Thanks for adding your expertise to this blog

barking frog

January 7th, 2011
3:34 pm

Much of the revenue to Healthcare Providers is from
the increased need for care in the final days of patients
lives. Many people choosing to not be treated could
wreck our healthcare system especially in the long
term care industry.

Rob

January 7th, 2011
3:39 pm

“You spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, round round.”

You know, you don’t HAVE to damage control and take the same side on EVERY issue. And I think the main gripe is that end of life decisions are fine–but they need to be conducted with a medical professional, and not a professional bureaucrat or non-elected, un-accountable professional official.

JKL2

January 7th, 2011
3:41 pm

kamchak- The lie that will not die

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy” -Nany Pelosi

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
3:41 pm

“”And I think the main gripe is that end of life decisions are fine–but they need to be conducted with a medical professional, and not a professional bureaucrat or non-elected, un-accountable professional official.”"

Are the any Republicans left who have any reading comprehension at all?

Damn the GOP for years of education cuts.

ctucker

January 7th, 2011
3:44 pm

Granny@3:41, So glad you said it so I didn’t have to

killerj

January 7th, 2011
3:44 pm

Just like to Jay,you pay to live.I just make sure my love one,s are taken care of weather the government agree,s with it or not,everyone faces the same ending,the trick is not to be extorted before you do expire.

Some People are misinformed

January 7th, 2011
3:46 pm

Who says we don’t need more funding in education. Reading Comprehension is a thing of the past.

Kamchak

January 7th, 2011
3:50 pm

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy” -Nany[sic] Pelosi

Very good.

Now let us revisit Danny-poo’s quote.

Heck the speaker at the time said “we have to pass this to see whats in it.

Not even close to being the same.

ButtHead

January 7th, 2011
3:53 pm

If you have a living will then there is no need for this law, but that requires individual responsibility and the loser liberals don’t know what individual responsibility is, they want a collective. The liberal left dreams about the Borg…..Treckkies will get it…

Jesse Jackson has a scheme for you......

January 7th, 2011
3:55 pm

Yeah we have Mis-informed Granny back with us on another senseless blog from CT.

B

January 7th, 2011
3:57 pm

Cynthia: you’re being needlessly, but not surprisingly, obtuse. The phrase may not exist: woopdedooo. The fact that some peon paper-pusher who should not even have a job gets to determine which procedures are cost effective and which aren’t means that the death panels are firmly in place. whether you want to admit it or not.

What is so hard to understand about this fact?

What is driving you and the other left-leaning posters nuts is this: this country has had it and the standard big gov operating procedures we all are suffering from are being challenged in a way not seen for a long, long time. We must wean ourselves from the teat. We have no choice.

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
3:58 pm

@B

Are you saying that under current rules and regulations that insurance companies are not making those type decisions today?

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
3:59 pm

@B

Funny you tried to rationalize based on some talking points, but couldn’t point to where it was ‘inferred’ in the actual bill

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
4:00 pm

Jesse Jackson has
a scheme for you……

What’s this your 30th name change today.

I have to admire your evil tenacity.

Or I could, like Rep King recently said about Speaker Boehners simply say:

Your mendacity is above reproach.

(Course it appears King had that same GOP comprehension problem and does not know what mendacity means)

ButtHead

January 7th, 2011
4:02 pm

“Are the any Republicans left who have any reading comprehension at all?”
Granny I hope you are being sarcastic, but I don’t think so. So who was it that said “We need to pass it so we can see what is in it” Was it the GOP that wanted to pass a 2700 page bill without reading it? Or was it the GOP that wanted it passed BEFORE anybody could read it; was it the GOP that refused to put it online like the dimacrats promised? Dam the GOP for education cuts, are you delusional, it was the idiot dimacrats who REFUSED to read the bill, who was it that said “You expect us to read this before we vote, that is crazy” was it the GOP, NO IT WAS THE DIMACRATS>>>>

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
4:03 pm

ctucker

it is the education issue that disturbs me the most.

creating a another generation of poorly educated Americans puts our nation and our way of life in grave danger.

Jesse Jackson has a scheme for you......

January 7th, 2011
4:04 pm

Name Change Granny? Not me……I have always KNOWn that Jesse Jackson has a scheme for everyone in this great country……

My problem, is there is no LIB who will admit to how much of a failure this Obamacare is for the country……I mean….it is true that you have to have a brain and be able to comprehend simple financials…….I just thought more LIBS had brains……my fault I guess

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
4:04 pm

Butthead

Are you implying that all bills sponsored by the Repubs from 1994 to 2006 were read by all Repubs in Congress? Are you implying that they never pushed any bill and played politics?

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
4:06 pm

Butthead

Your post confirms my statement.

Very very sad.

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
4:06 pm

jesse

i don’t beleive you

Really last word

January 7th, 2011
4:08 pm

CT states “It was hard enough to lay my father to rest under those circumstances. I simply cannot imagine how painful it would have been if he been too sick to tell us how he wanted to die.”

And, telling a doctor would have made it any better and the doctor advising your father about end-of-life directives? It is a private matter and in instances like Ms. Tucker’s dad, I would think most would take their final days and let their wishes be known . . . whether verbally to their spouse, a child or other close relative or friend, or in a legally binding document.

I don’t think it is necessary for Medicare to pay a doctor to discuss end-of-life directives. What about all those individuals not on Medicare who are in a life-threatening accident or who have a deadly disease. Why Medicare? Are we to assume that everyone on Medicare are seniors?

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
4:08 pm

This health care bill with all it’s warts for the most part will stand the test of time………….

Republicans know this but they must throw the ‘flock’ a bone after the big win in November. Anything they pass will die in the Senate and there will be some Repubs in the Senate who will be running from any changes as fast as they can. Demint and several others will make some noise, but die it will. It is a ruse to keep you captivated. Dems do the same thing.

Going to be some sad people when the SC allows most if not all of this LAW to stand as it is.

Jesse Jackson has a scheme for you......

January 7th, 2011
4:10 pm

What don’t you believe Granny?

Kamchak

January 7th, 2011
4:11 pm

So who was it that said “We need to pass it so we can see what is in it”

Conservatives, misquoting Nancy Pelosi.

james

January 7th, 2011
4:11 pm

let’s see- the US Constitution is too long and complicated for the libs but 2200 pages of nonsensical garble is ok. How can one even debate such a nonsensical titanic of a so called bill? Burn it, shred it, start it over and include a common sense immigration bill (the two are very much hand in hand). Clearly the libs simply love it to love it.

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
4:14 pm

@James

I see the Repubs in Congress who KNOW that this facade of a repeal vote that is going nowhere have you worked up. Their plan to keep you captivated is working like a charm.

ButtHead

January 7th, 2011
4:14 pm

Yes it is very sad that the reality is that the dimarats are the ones who did not want anybody to read before the vote. The really sad thing is that you did not address one thing I said, because it was all true….

Kamchak

January 7th, 2011
4:14 pm

Clearly the libs simply love it to love it.

No, but thanks for playing. Please see Vanna on your way out for your lovely parting gifts, including a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni—The San Fransisco Treat!

Kamchak

January 7th, 2011
4:16 pm

The really sad thing is that you did not address one thing I said, because it was all true…

No Democrat ever said, “We need to pass it so we can see what is in it,” sport.

They BOTH suck

January 7th, 2011
4:17 pm

@Butthead

That is why we have a SC. I’m sure that the conservative leaning court will say that this law is not constitutional………..right?

You are going to crap your pants when these lawsuits finally get to the SC and most of the bill is still in tact after they making their rulings..

I’m not saying it is a good bill, not saying politics were not played… but the Repubs in Congress are PLAYING you for money and votes if they have you believing that this law is going away

james

January 7th, 2011
4:17 pm

TBSuck- there are very few things that get me “worked up” I can describe them (her) to you but I think you get the point.

btw- from a moderate- raising the sales tax in GA to cut corporate taxes will result in the state continuing to be not be held accountable for its finances.

ButtHead

January 7th, 2011
4:18 pm

They both suck
Like the name, no I am not saying that I was resending the foolish statement by Granny. But then again I never saw the GOP push a 2700 page bill written by lobbyist that would effect very American either.

james

January 7th, 2011
4:19 pm

Kam- I glance- key term glance- through your posts and move on to more intelligent reads like green eggs and ham- no need to respond to my posts in the future big un

Harry Callahan

January 7th, 2011
4:21 pm

Cynthia, why do we as individuals, or our families, need to be prepared to make these decisions when Obama and his thug liberal cohorts intend to make them for us?

Kamchak

January 7th, 2011
4:22 pm

Kam- I glance- key term glance- through your posts and move on…

So?

granny godzilla

January 7th, 2011
4:23 pm

Butthead

I will try this one more time with you, as I am a good christian woman and sincerely want to help you.

The quote you keep misqouting was a phrase spoken by the former Speaker of the House in response to a question about what changes to the bill would occur in the senate.

she said, as she is a member of the house not the senate – that we’d have to wait and see what came out of the senate.

because she could not possibly have know what the senate would change.

it really is very simple and straight forward.

your real concern should be why the folks who started spreading the mis-quote around want you to believe a lie.

why are the people whose political idealogy you espouse telling you stuff like this. what’s in it for them?