On August 25, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly hosted Sen. Arlen Specter to discuss his call for hearings regarding a Veterans Health Administration booklet about end-of-life decisions -- a booklet Specter characterized during the segment as "tough on veterans" and not "appropriate counseling." However, Kelly did not note that The Washington Post reported that day in its print edition that Specter "said in an interview yesterday that he had not read the booklet but was disturbed by what he had gleaned thus far."
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the August 25 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
KELLY: Well, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has been having a bit of a rough time at these town halls over the past month. We're going to talk to him about that in a minute. But first, the senator is stepping in to defend the nation's veterans today in the wake of stunning revelations about the Veterans Administration's end-of-life counseling. Senator Specter now calling for a hearing in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. At issue is a 52-page VA document on end-of-life counseling. One former Bush administration official says this document, quote, "makes the veterans feel like they're a burden and they should do the decent thing and die." Well, now, the senator wants to look into that.
Senator Arlen Specter is my guest now. Senator, good morning. Welcome back to the program.
SPECTER: Good morning, Megyn; nice to have a chance to talk to you again. Thank you.
KELLY: It's always a pleasure to have you. But, you know, this -- we watched this on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace unearthing both sides of this issue, and the deputy secretary for the VA, Tammy Duckworth, came out and said, "Look, that document that's so controversial is inactive. It hasn't been in use for a few years."
The bottom line is, it's still up on the VA's website. We checked; it's still there. It's got a disclaimer that says it's under revision, but it's still there. And it tells the physicians to refer veterans to this pamphlet, which asks veterans to decide whether their life is worth living if they're in a wheelchair, if they're in a nursing home, if they feel depressed, and so on.
I mean, this strikes us as rather outrageous, Senator. Are we off base on this?
SPECTER: That counseling memo is very tough on veterans, and I don't think it's the appropriate counseling. I think we have to protect the veterans and encourage them, and they may have some very tough wounds as a result of serving the country. And I've called for hearings, written to the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, a committee I serve on, to have a hearing and to explore it thoroughly.
And I've also written to the Veterans Administration with the suggestion that it be suspended, taken off the website until there can be an analysis and a final determination. And if the hearing shows what I think it will show, that it's not desirable, I will introduce legislation to prohibit it. Congress can control that.
Washington Post: Specter "had not read the booklet but was disturbed by what he had gleaned thus far"
Specter: "I heard an inference that people might be inappropriately influenced to withhold medical treatment." The Post reported in the August 25 edition of the paper:
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) called on the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday to consider suspending its use of an end-of-life planning document that critics have dubbed the "death book for veterans."
"There is an issue as to whether the VA document inappropriately pressures disabled veterans who forgo critical care by subtly urging them on end-of-life decisions," Specter wrote in a letter requesting that the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hold a hearing on the matter.
VA officials said that the document has been misrepresented by critics and that the decade-old publication, titled "Your Life, Your Choices," is an "educational resource" meant to help veterans direct in advance the medical care they want in the event they are incapacitated.
Specter said in an interview yesterday that he had not read the booklet but was disturbed by what he had gleaned thus far. "I heard an inference that people might be inappropriately influenced to withhold medical treatment," he said.
Specter's letter, which was also sent to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, says that "consideration should be given to suspending it temporarily until a determination is made as to its appropriateness."
Specter joins conservative media in criticizing booklet for veterans on advance planning
Fox News, NRO, Limbaugh run with "death book" smears. Following false accusations that the Democrats' health care reform legislation would institute "death panels" for the elderly, former Bush official Jim Towey claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Obama administration revived a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) booklet on advanced planning directives that would "steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living," calling the booklet a "death book." As with the death panel smear, conservative media -- particularly Fox News -- promoted Towey's false "death book" claim, ignoring facts that undermine Towey's rhetoric.
Booklet for veterans on advance planning is not a "death book"
"Your Life, Your Choices" does not tell veterans to "hurry up and die." The booklet emphasizes that "your wishes will direct future health care decisions" and presents preserving one's life "using any means possible" as an option to consider. An August 23 post by VoteVets.org blogger Richard Smith criticized Towey's assertion in The Wall Street Journal that "Your Life, Your Choices" presents "end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions," writing: "Really, if the document was really trying to get veterans to pull the plug on themselves, then first suggesting to them that their life should be prolonged at all costs is a pretty stupid way to do it" [emphasis in original].
Kelly continued to promote smear that booklet pressures veterans to die
Kelly: "[W]ho, in their right mind who knew about this document, would allow it to stay on the website?" During the August 25 interview with Specter, Kelly said:
KELLY: Do we have to do all that, Senator? I mean, can't you just call somebody over at the White House and say look at this crazy document. You probably didn't know about it, because who, in their right mind who knew about this document, would allow it to stay on the website? Just take it down. Take it down and tell the VA doctors not to refer their patients to this pamphlet, which suggests that they consider whether life is worth living because they happen to be relegated to a wheelchair or feel a little depressed. [America's Newsroom, 8/25/09]
Kelly forwarded claims from "critics" that booklet tells veterans to "hurry up and die." On August 24, Kelly falsely claimed that the booklet encourages veterans to "hurry up and die" and that VHA officials are "required" to refer patients to it.