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Posted by on Aug 13, 2009 in Health, Media, Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 44 comments

Have We Lost Grassley et al. to the “Death Panels”?

For a moment, just for a brief moment, I thought that we were beginning to step back from the brink of all-out, take-no-prisoners combat on one of the most divisive issues surrounding healthcare reform.

After alleging that her parents and her Down Syndrome baby would have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel,” “so his bureaucrats can decide…whether they are worthy of health care,” former governor Sarah Palin is now revisiting her incendiary implications that Obama’s “evil” health care plan will kill children and Grandmas.

For whatever reasons—it doesn’t matter: it’s good—in her latest Facebook entry, Palin now encourages a more civil discourse on the health care issue:

There are many disturbing details in the current bill that Washington is trying to rush through Congress, but we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation’s civil discourse which we need now more than ever because the fine print in this outrageous health care proposal must be understood clearly and not get lost in conscientious voters’ passion to want to make elected officials hear what we are saying. Let’s not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.

Even Rush Limbaugh, while still fiercely criticizing the health care proposals, indirectly—in the “obscene profit center” segment of his show—supported one aspect that the alleged “death panel” section of the House bill: The importance of having a living will.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson from Georgia indicated that he was “befuddled” that the issue of end-of-life counseling and planning had become a question of euthanasia, called Palin’s interpretation ‘nuts,’ and emphasized that all 50 states currently have some legislation allowing end-of-life directives.

What is significant, according to the Post, is that “One of the foremost advocates of expanding Medicare end-of-life planning coverage is Johnny Isakson… He co-sponsored 2007’s Medicare End-of-Life Planning Act and proposed an amendment similar to the House bill’s Section 1233 during the Senate HELP Committee’s mark-up of its health care bill.”

Here are some of Senator Isakson’s remarks on this issue:

Q. Is this bill going to euthanize my grandmother? What are we talking about here?

A. In the health-care debate mark-up, one of the things I talked about was that the most money spent on anyone is spent usually in the last 60 days of life and that’s because an individual is not in a capacity to make decisions for themselves. So rather than getting into a situation where the government makes those decisions, if everyone had an end-of-life directive or what we call in Georgia “durable power of attorney,” you could instruct at a time of sound mind and body what you want to happen in an event where you were in difficult circumstances where you’re unable to make those decisions.

This has been an issue for 35 years. All 50 states now have either durable powers of attorney or end-of-life directives and it’s to protect children or a spouse from being put into a situation where they have to make a terrible decision as well as physicians from being put into a position where they have to practice defensive medicine because of the trial lawyers. It’s just better for an individual to be able to clearly delineate what they want done in various sets of circumstances at the end of their life.

Q. How did this become a question of euthanasia?

A. I have no idea. I understand — and you have to check this out — I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin’s web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up.

According to ABC News’ Jake Tapper, “Isakson also sponsored a bill in 2007, that would ‘amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of an end-of-life planning consultation as part of an initial preventive physical examination under the Medicare program.’ That’s very similar to what the House bill would do, although with much less specificity.”

So far so good on a more civil discourse. But it gets better.

During his Tuesday town-hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., while debunking the “death panels” issue, the president also had praise for Republican senators, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the powerful Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member and one of three Republicans negotiating the health care proposals with three Democrats on that committee:

Now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works — Chuck Grassley of Iowa…They are diligently working to see if they can come up with a plan that could get both Republican and Democratic support.

He also had kind words for Johnny Isakson for his proposed end-of-life legislation.

But then all hell breaks loose.

First, Senator Isakson who, to be fair, did vote against the Senate health reform bill in committee, but who, also, did add an end-of-life consultation amendment to it, was quite irate that the president had complimented him for his work .

He blasts the House bill—especially the now infamous Section 1233— and says, “My Senate amendment simply puts health care choices back in the hands of the individual and allows them to consider if they so choose a living will or durable power of attorney. The House provision is merely another ill-advised attempt at more government mandates, more government intrusion, and more government involvement in what should be an individual choice.”

Again, ABC’s Jake Tapper :

Isakson’s amendment to the Senate bill, they say, is very different because, “anyone who participates in the long-term care benefit provided in the bill – if they so choose – may use that benefit to obtain assistance in formulating their own living will and durable power of attorney. ”

And it’s true that his amendment is two pages whereas the section in the House bill is ten. But the bill Isakson offered has more similarities with the House Democrats’ bill than it has differences.

Then, Senator Grassley, who according to Joan Wash at Salon.com has “been held up as a paragon of reason and bipartisan comity,” went totally rogue and, in my opinion, went even beyond Sarah Palin’s (now tempered) original rant.

Here are some of Grassley’s comments made during town hall meetings in Iowa yesterday:

Referring to counseling for end-of-life, Grassley told the crowd: “And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear… We should not have a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.”

And later, “There are some people who think it is a terrible problem that grandma is laying in a bed with tubes in her…and that the government should intervene…I think that’s a family or religious thing that needs to be dealt with.”

Well, so much for putting the “death panel” issue to death rest.

Can we still step back from the disinformation abyss in other areas?

UPDATE:

Apparently I was premature with commending former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her more civil and reasoned discourse on the so-called “death panels.”

According to Politico.com, Sarah Palin last night defended—“doubled down” on—her claim that the Democratic health care proposal would create “death panels.”

She wrote in her Facebook page:

Yesterday President Obama responded to my statement that Democratic health care proposals would lead to rationed care; that the sick, the elderly and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system, these ‘unproductive’ members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care.

She then accused Obama of “misleading” about the now infamous Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.”

Perhaps, in the future, I should wait at least 48 hours before commenting—especially in a laudable manner—on any of the former Governor’s remarks.