Health Care 'Death Panels' a Myth

Opponents of the House health care reform bill say it would create death panels.

ByABC News
August 10, 2009, 9:22 PM

Aug. 10, 2009— -- The accusations are shocking, inflammatory and often incorrect.

Shouts of "This is euthanasia!" and questions from angry citizens such as, "Adolph Hitler called his program the Final Solution. What will we call ours?" have taken center stage at health care town halls all across the nation.

"Right now it seems there is an intentional effort to distort what's in the legislation and that's confusing the public debate," AARP executive vice president of policy John Rother said.

At issue is a 10-page section of a 1,000-page House health care reform bill on "advanced care planning consultations."

These consultations would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient once every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life.

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, called this "downright evil," and asserted the elderly would have to stand in front of a "death panel so [President Obama's] bureaucrats can decide ... whether they are worthy of health care."

So what are the facts?

The provision would create no such panel. It calls only for a "consultation between the individual and a practitioner."

Then how did this misinformation start?

It seems that it started with some remarks by former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey on "The Fred Thompson Show" radio program July 16.

"This is a vicious assault on elderly people, all to do what's in society's best interest, or your family's best, and cut your life short," she said.

Her comments had spread online and seniors started asking pointed questions.

At a health care town hall with Obama hosted by the AARP, a man said, "This is being read as saying, 'every five years, you'll be told how you can die.'"

"Well, that would be kind of morbid," the president responded.

In fact, the intent of the measure is not for doctors to tell patients what to do, but to give doctors more incentives to talk to patients about all of their options.

In La Crosse, Wis., such "end-of-life consultations" are already common because of a program put in place by a local hospital.

As a result of these consultations, LaCrosse resident Ann Kottnaur said she now knows that her mother Margaret, who has Parkinson's disease and dementia, would rather die at home than in a nursing home.

"By the time we completed it, her health had started to fail," Kottnaur said of the end-of-life care consultations.