Debunking The GOP’s Phony Euthanasia Myth — Since Politico Won’t

July 28, 2009 10:09 a.m.

In recent days, a new right-wing scare tactic on health-care has blossomed on conservative blogs and emails lists: the notion that the reform bill making its way through the House would lead to euthanasia by requiring senior citizens to submit to “end-of-life consultations.”

It won’t surprise you to learn this is a lie. But President Obama just got a question on it at a public event. And the idea has now made it into Politico, where a straight news story asks in its headline, all even-handed: “Will proposal promote euthanasia?” Since Politico thinks it’ll be easier to “win the morning” by misleading readers into believing there’s a legitimate debate over this issue, it’s worth taking a minute to debunk it.In fact, Politico‘s story contains pretty much all the information needed to do that. It’s just that almost none of it makes it into the headline, or the first seven paragraphs of the piece, which focus on the fact that Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and other reforms opponents are raising the euthanasia alarm.

The provision at issue would require Medicare, for the first time, to cover advanced care consultations for seniors once every five years, or more frequently if the patient has a life threatening disease. These consultations include “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.”

Seniors are in no way required to take advantage of this benefit. (Politico renders this information as: “it does not mandate individuals to take advantage of the benefit, proponents say.”) Indeed, the chief proponent of the notion that the consultations are required, reform opponent Betsy McCaughey, is reduced to arguing that, though they’re not technically mandated, seniors might feel pressured by doctors or nurses who suggest having such sessions.

Nor is there any reasonable basis for believing that these consultations, if chosen, would do anything to promote euthanasia — which is illegal in 48 states anyway. Discussions between sick or elderly people and their doctors about end-of-life treatment have long been an accepted part of modern patient care. As Politico itself notes, in 2003, a Bush administration agency “issued a 20-page report outlining a five-part process for physicians to discuss end-of-life care with their patients.” And since 1990, Congress has required health-care agencies to inform patients about state laws regarding advance directives such as a living will.

So in terms of the substance, that’s pretty much that. In terms of Politico‘s role, here’s the thing:

The only basically accurate way to cover this self-evidently phony controversy would be to frame it as something like: “Congressional Republicans Take Cues From Limbaugh By Misleading Americans on Health Care Bill.” But that wouldn’t fit into the conventions of mainstream political journalism, wherein assessing the facts of a partisan dispute and clearly calling out one side is forbidden.

So instead we get: “Will proposal promote euthanasia?” Hope you guys won the morning.

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