REPORT: The media have debunked the death panels -- more than 40 times over


Numerous media outlets have now debunked right-wing claims that the House health care reform bill would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, including Sarah Palin's claim -- forwarded by the conservative media -- that the bill would create a "death panel" and the related claim -- initiated by Betsy McCaughey -- that the bill would "absolutely require" that seniors on Medicare undergo end-of-life counseling "that will tell them how to end their life sooner." Indeed, Media Matters for America has identified more than 40 instances of media reporting that these claims are false.

40+ media reports debunking false claims of "death panels," euthanasia

PolitiFact says "death panel" claims are "pants on fire," "false." On August 10,, a project of the St. Petersburg Times, wrote: "We've looked at the inflammatory claims that the health care bill encourages euthanasia. It doesn't. There's certainly no 'death board' that determines the worthiness of individuals to receive care. ... [Palin] said that the Democratic plan will ration care and 'my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of [President] 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.' Palin's statement sounds more like a science fiction movie (Soylent Green, anyone?) than part of an actual bill before Congress. We rate her statement Pants on Fire!" Addressing a revised version of Palin's claim in a subsequent post, PolitiFact wrote on August 13: "The fact is that there is nothing in the health care bill that would require people to get the end-of-life counseling. Perhaps, as [The Washington Post's Charles] Lane - and by extension Palin - argues, patients might feel some subtle pressure from a doctor to get the counseling. But the patients make the call. That's the definition of voluntary." PolitiFact added: "We've said in our previous item that it was voluntary and we see nothing in Palin's argument that proves otherwise. And so we rule her claim False."

PolitiFact previously determined that McCaughey's claim was "a ridiculous falsehood." PolitiFact stated: "For our ruling on this one, there's really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would 'tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner' is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning." The article concluded: "McCaughey isn't just wrong, she's spreading a ridiculous falsehood. That's a Pants on Fire." [, 7/23/09] McCaughey's claim of mandatory counseling on ending seniors' lives is "a misrepresentation." Under the heading "False: The House Bill Requires Suicide Counseling," FactCheck wrote of McCaughey's assertion: "This is a misrepresentation. What the bill actually provides for is voluntary Medicare-funded end-of-life counseling. In other words, if seniors choose to make advance decisions about the type of care and treatments they wish to receive at the end of their lives, Medicare will pay for them to sit down with their doctor and discuss their preferences. There is no requirement to attend regular sessions, and there is absolutely no provision encouraging euthanasia." [, 8/14/09]

ABC medical editor said "the idea about death panels" is "not at all legitimate." On the August 13 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, ABC chief medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson told anchor Chris Cuomo that "the idea about death panels -- that this plan is going to decide who lives and dies" is "not at all legitimate." Johnson continued, "What is in one of the versions is a so-called advanced care planning provision, allowing patients who want it -- entirely voluntary -- to have a consultation with their health care professionals every five years to talk about directives and living wills and things like that that might help them plan for the future as they're getting older." He added, "But, I stress, it's entirely voluntary. It's not at all mandatory."

ABC's Snow on World News: "The facts? The provision would create no such panel"; "death panel" claim is "misinformation." ABC's Kate Snow said:

SNOW: At issue: a 10-page section of a thousand-page House health care reform bill. It would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin called this "downright evil," asserting her parents and her child with Down syndrome would have to stand in front of an Obama "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide whether they're worthy of health care.

The facts? The provision would create no such panel. It calls only for a consultation between the individual and a practitioner. So how did this misinformation start? [ABC's World News, 8/10/09]

Snow on "Health Care 'Death Panels' a Myth." Snow wrote a virtually identical report for an August 10 article featuring the headline "Health Care 'Death Panels' a Myth" and the subheadline "Claims That House Health Care Reform Bill Would Create 'Death Panels' Are Untrue."

AP fact check: "No 'death panel in health care bill.' " In an August 11 article headlined "FACT CHECK: No 'death panel' in health care bill," the AP reported, "Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a 'death panel.' Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong. Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes" [emphasis added].

Separate AP article: "[T]here will be no 'death panels' under the legislation being considered." In an August 14 article, the AP reported:

[T]here will be no "death panels" under the legislation being considered. In fact, the provision in the bill would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

AP also debunked McCaughey's claim. In an August 2 article about "[c]onfusing claims and outright distortions" in the health care debate, the AP noted that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) claimed the House bill "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia" and that McCaughey alleged, " 'One troubling provision of the House bill compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years ... about alternatives for end-of-life care." The article then explained "the facts" as follows:

The bill would require Medicare to pay for advance directive consultations with health care professionals. But it would not require anyone to use the benefit.

Advance directives lay out a patient's wishes for life-extending measures under various scenarios involving terminal illness, severe brain damage and situations. Patients and their families would consult with health professionals, not government agents, if they used the proposed benefit.

Time's Tumulty: "no one is proposing anything like" what Palin is talking about. On the Swampland blog, Time magazine's Karen Tumulty quoted Palin saying that "Obama's 'death panel' " system is "downright evil," and then wrote: "Yes, such a system would indeed be downright evil. Which is why no one is proposing anything like it. Let's repeat: No one is proposing anything like it" [emphasis in original]. [Swampland, 8/7/09]

Time's Klein: "Death panels" are a "non-issue." On Swampland, Time's Joe Klein wrote: "Senator Chuck Grassley has announced his membership in the Limbaugh mainstream of the Republican Party on the non-issue of Death Panels. This is the man who is the lead Republican negotiator in the Senate Finance Committee's effort to create a bipartisan health care bill -- and he either (a) hasn't the vaguest notion of what's in the bill or (b) he is so intimidated by the ditto-head-brown-shirts that he is trying to fudge a response to keep them happy." [Swampland, 8/12/09]

NBC's Thompson says "death panel" claim is "misinformation." NBC's Anne Thompson reported: "Now, analysts on both sides of the aisle say one of the problems in this debate is the lack of specifics. The White House is letting Congress come up with the bill, and that vacuum of information is getting filled by misinformation, such as those death panels, complicating what was already a contentious and emotional issue." [NBC's Nightly News, 8/10/09]

David Brooks on "death panel" claim: "That's crazy." On NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory said to New York Times columnist David Brooks, "There is the rhetoric; there's also the question of what's true and what's false in what people are arguing about this notion of a death panel." Brooks responded, "Again, that's crazy. If the -- the crazies are attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that -- that's simply not true. That simply is not going to happen." [Meet the Press, 8/9/09]

Larry Elder: Palin's "death panel" comment is "over the top." Radio host Larry Elder said of Palin's comment, "I don't know what she was referring to; I suspect she was referring to one proposal that had a voluntary panel that would look at certain kinds of health care decisions. But to call it a death panel, I agree with Ron [Reagan], is over the top." Asked whether "saying things like that takes away from the debate," Elder replied: "I think any kind of irresponsible comment takes away from the real issue here, and that is whether or not you can provide universal coverage, high quality, at low cost. Any kind of incendiary comment takes away from that debate." [CNN's American Morning, 8/10/09]

NY Times reports "death panels" assertion "has no basis in any of the provisions of the legislative proposals." In an August 12 article, The New York Times reported that Obama "took issue with critics who he said had distorted the debate to stoke fears that health changes will include 'death panels that will basically pull the plug on Grandma.' That charge, which has been widely disseminated, has no basis in any of the provisions of the legislative proposals under consideration in Congress; it appears to be based on a provision that would require Medicare to pay for doctors to counsel patients on end-of-life care."

NY Times: "[D]eath panels" claim is a "stubborn yet false rumor." In an August 13 article headlined "False 'Death Panel' Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots," The New York Times reported:

The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama's health care proposals would create government-sponsored "death panels" to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.

Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party's last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.


There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure. But over the course of the past few months, early, stated fears from anti-abortion conservatives that Mr. Obama would pursue a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda, combined with twisted accounts of actual legislative proposals that would provide financing for optional consultations with doctors about hospice care and other ''end of life'' services, fed the rumor to the point where it overcame the debate.

NY Times' Krugman: "Death panels" are "a complete fabrication." In an August 13 column, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

Right now, the charge that's gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create ''death panels'' (in Sarah Palin's words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It's a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican -- yes, Republican -- of Georgia, who says that it's ''nuts'' to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

LA Times: "death panels" claim "widely discredited." In an August 14 article, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speculated that Obama and other Democrats wanted to set up 'death panels' to decide who gets medical services and who does not. In reality, the end-of-life provision was designed to allow Medicare to pay doctors who counsel patients about end-of-life decisions. The consultations would be voluntary and would provide information about living wills, health care proxies, pain medication and hospice." The article also stated: "The Palin claim about 'death panels' was so widely discredited that the White House has begun openly quoting it in an effort to show that opponents of the health care overhaul are misinformed."

USA Today editorial: Palin and McCaughey claims are "misinformation." In an August 10 editorial "correcting some of the misinformation," USA Today stated that "critics have twisted" the section of the House bill "allow[ing] Medicare to pay doctors for optional end-of-life counseling" into "a sinister, cost-saving plot by the government to force seniors to end their lives early." USA Today continued:

First aired on the radio show of former Tennessee GOP senator Fred Thompson, the notion was picked up by House Republican Leader John Boehner, who said the provision was a precursor to "government-encouraged euthanasia." Former Alaska GOP governor Sarah Palin has now weighed in with a Facebook posting that claims that Obama would create a government-run "death panel."

Neutral arbiters have rightly demolished this. labels the claim "nonsense" and says calling this forced euthanasia is like saying "a bill making retirement planning easier would force Americans to quit their jobs." Terrifying seniors over this provision is shameless.

Wash. Post: "There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills." In an August 9 article, The Washington Post reported:

Conservative talk-radio shows have raised the prospect of euthanasia based on a provision to reimburse doctors through Medicare for counseling sessions about end-of-life directives.

And comments posted on former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin's Facebook page Friday said people would 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."

There are no such "death panels" mentioned in any of the House bills.

Wash. Post editorial board: Death panels "the most extreme misrepresentation" in health care debate. In an August 14 editorial, The Washington Post stated: "The debate over health reform has veered into a peripheral and misleading discussion of whether it includes a scheme to pressure senior citizens into pulling the plug. The most extreme misrepresentation has 'death panels,' as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin colorfully put it, deciding who is too old or too disabled to merit treatment. This is a distorted interpretation, to say the least."

Wash. Post's Pearlstein: "[E]uthanasia" claims are "wacko-logic." In an August 7 column, Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein wrote: "When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn't, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly."

CBS' Couric on "death panel" claims: "There is no such proposal." On the August 13 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric said: "One of the most contentious issues in the health care debate involves a proposal to provide end-of-life counseling to help patients decide what kind of medical treatment they want or need. The most extreme opponents have raised the specter of what they call death panels that would decide whether insurance would pay for end-of-life care. There is no such proposal."

CNN's Yellin says "death panel" claim is "not true." On the August 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, correspondent Jessica Yellin reported:

YELLIN: Now, Palin was defending a claim that she originally made last week, when she first said that if health care reform passes, her parents or her baby with Downs Syndrome would be required to, "stand in front of Obama's death panel so his bureaucrats can decide whether they are worthy of health care." Fact check -- not true. There is no panel that would decide whether the weak live or die. Even some Pal -- some of Palin's Republican colleagues are slamming her for promoting a rumor that they call nuts and that they say will, "gin up fear."

CNN's Crowley: Suggestion that government program would determine that elderly should die is "not on target." After airing a clip during the August 13 edition of CNN Newsroom of Grassley saying "we should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on grandma," CNN's Candy Crowley said: "Put him down as not on target, the program inserted in the House bill would allow federal reimbursement to doctors who give end-of-life counseling to Medicare patients who want it."

CNN's Acosta says "death panel" reference is a "false claim." On the August 12 edition of CNN's American Morning, correspondent Jim Acosta referred to "the false claim made by some reform opponents that Democratic health care plans would create a bureaucratic death panel to decide end of life issues for the elderly and disabled."

CNN's Sanchez says "death panels" claim is "obviously not true." On the August 11 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Rich Sanchez said: "[A] big part of what we've been watching today has to do with some of the unsubstantiated reports, rumors, if you will. People have been told, for example, that if they're old, under the Obama plan there will be death panels that will allow old people to die. It's obviously not true."

MSNBC's O'Donnell: Death panels a "fictional invention by Sarah Palin." On the August 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, guest host Lawrence O'Donnell said: "Now, Senator Grassley should by this time be well versed in the House bills. Shouldn't he be able to tell Iowa voters there is no provision, no wording, no sentence, nothing in any bill that provides for a government panel to end Granny's life? That was a fictional invention by Sarah Palin and others on Chuck Grassley's side of the aisle."

Wash. Post's Cillizza calls death panels claim "misinformation." On the August 11 edition of Hardball, host Chris Matthews said: "[T]his stuff about euthanasia, this stuff that's been talked about, the plug-pulling, the death panels that Sarah Palin, who's become sort of the patron saint of these people -- it's really getting wild." Cillizza replied: "You know, Chris, in campaign politics -- and you know this -- a little misinformation goes a long way. And I think that's what we're seeing."

Wash. Post's Capehart notes that "death panels" are "non-existent." On the August 14 edition of MSNBC Live, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart said: "I'm not sure how much sway the whole non-existent 'death panels' question is for people out there, and I think the president, you know, hitting that issue head on and, like, reminding people that you know, this is just not the case."

MSNBC's Olbermann calls death panel claim "a new lie about health care." On the August 10 edition of Countdown, host Keith Olbermann said: "After kicking off the weekend weaponizing a new lie about health care, about which more in a moment, that Mr. Obama wants death panels to force euthanasia, former Governor Palin of Alaska has suddenly thrown it into reverse."

Newsweek's Alter calls euthanasia claims "despicable lies." On the August 7 edition of Countdown, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter said:

ALTER: [I]f you go to the page that references this, which, of course, none of these critics, including Governor Palin want to do because it would destroy their despicable lies, it said something very simple, which is that when you get to an end-of-life decision, that Medicare will pay, will reimburse your doctor to have the conversation that every elderly person or grievously ill person and their families should have to make, you know, these very tough decisions. And having the consultation of the medical professional is helpful.

That doesn't say that anything about, you know, advancing the end of life or euthanasia.

Boston Globe pronounced "death panels" claim "debunked." In an August 14 article, The Boston Globe reported: "Among the leading proponents of the 'death panels' criticism was former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The original sponsor of the provision and a variety of specialists all debunked the allegation and said end-of-life counseling can help families deal with difficult choices."

NY Daily News: "[D]eath panels" are "fictitious." The New York Daily News wrote in an August 13 article:

Sarah Palin may have fanned the fire over President Obama's fictitious health care "death panels," but she didn't light the match.

That was New York's Betsy McCaughey.


In reality, the bill section simply aims to provide Medicare coverage for once-every-five-year conversations with doctors over what life-prolonging measures, if any, a patient wants taken in the event of a terminal illness or injury. It's an idea first championed by a conservative Republican senator, Johnny Isakson of Georgia. But McCaughey took that section and ran with it, providing backup for Palin and right-wing media pot-stirrers to sound the "death panel" alarm.

Orlando Sentinel editorial says Palin is "wrong." In an August 12 editorial, the Orlando Sentinel stated:

Mr. Obama's system, [Palin] wrote in a Facebook entry, would feature bureaucrats on "death panels" who'd decide whether people like her parents or her Down Syndrome child are worthy of health care.

Only she's wrong. The provision Ms. Palin addresses simply would allow Medicare to pay health-care providers for sessions when a patient chooses to discuss advanced-care planning, like living wills and hospice care. The patient would decide whether to even get such counseling.

Des Moines Register editorial calls death panel claim a "wild misrepresentation." In an August 14 editorial, The Des Moines Register wrote: "Talk about wild misrepresentations. No one in Congress has proposed a 'death panel' - or any panel or program - to evaluate individual patients. Rather, House legislation authorizes Medicare to pay doctors to counsel patients about living wills and end-of-life care - if the patients wants to have such a discussion."

Chicago Tribune's Page calls McCaughey claim "[n]onsense." In an August 5 column, the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page wrote that McCaughey's claim about "mandatory" end-of-life counseling pressuring seniors to die is "nonsense," and added: "The provision would require Medicare to pay for advanced-care consultations, but it does not require individuals to take advantage of the benefit. Nor does it require that a government bureaucrat intervene among the patient, the patient's family or a doctor or nurse practitioner, as McCaughey insists it does."

AJC's Bookman calls attacks on end-of-life counseling provision "absolutely false." In an August 14 column, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman wrote: "Some critics have claimed that the Democratic proposal will require senior citizens to undergo mandatory end-of-life counseling every five years. That claim -- absolutely false in its own right -- has been further twisted into a claim that government 'death panels' will condemn the disabled and elderly to die."

Denver Post: Death panel claim is "false." In an August 12 "fact check," The Denver Post wrote: " calls Palin's assertion a 'sci-fi scenario not based in reality.' The claim that health care reform proposals now under consideration would create a panel to decide who lives or dies is false."

SF Chronicle: "[D]eath panel" charge is a "sheer distortion." In an August 14 article, the San Francisco Chronicle stated: "For sheer distortion, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's 'death panel' charge, implying euthanasia of the elderly and disabled under the health care plan, hit what some called a new low in modern American politics."

Politico: "[D]eath panels" claim is a "full-blown myth." In an August 12 article, Politico reported that "Democrats are also fighting full-blown myths that have gained traction, attacks claiming that reform would create government 'death panels' authorizing euthanasia."

Reuters: "[D]eath panels" smear is an "inaccurate charge." Reuters reported in an August 12 article: "The heckling crowds -- encouraged by Republican and conservative groups and talk show hosts to help create a sense of widespread outrage about healthcare reform -- have frequently spotlighted inaccurate charges such as the creation of 'death panels' to decide the level of care for the elderly."

PolitiFact's Adair on CNN: Claim that counseling is "mandatory" is "incorrect." Appearing on CNN, editor Bill Adair said, "[Palin] is incorrect. We gave that a false on our Truth-O-Meter on Really, when you look at the bill, when you look at the language, it is voluntary. There's nothing in the bill that says that it's mandatory. There's nothing that backs up this claim." Adair added, "as the language is written now, as we've discussed it with experts, it's just not true to say that it's not voluntary. It is voluntary." Host John Roberts replied, "False on the mandatory death panel. All right, Bill, cleared that one up." [CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, 8/13/09]

Columbia Journalism Review criticizes McCaughey's "inaccurate" end-of-life counseling claim. In an August 13 article on its website, the Columbia Journalism Review's (CJR) Trudy Lieberman called McCaughey's end-of-life counseling claim "inaccurate" and quoted Washington and Lee law professor Timothy Jost's statement that "[i]t is impossible to believe that this innocently got twisted into this 'death panel' legislation." Also, in an August 14 article, CJR's Greg Marx stated that "[t]he Obama administration is trying to counter false claims that proposed health care reforms will lead to government-sponsored euthanasia" and referred to McCaughey's "role in advancing the euthanasia myth."*

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Health Care, Health Care Reform
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