In the days since the New York Times' report that beginning January 1, Medicare will cover voluntary discussions between patients and doctors about end-of-life planning, conservatives (with help from media like the Times and the Associated Press) have been claiming that "death panels" are back and Sarah Palin was right. This is false. There are no death panels.
When PolitiFact named Palin's "death panels" claim the 2009 "lie of the year," it noted the obvious implications of the term -- that the government would kill people:
History professor Ian Dowbiggin, who has written several books on medical history, euthanasia and eugenics, said he had never heard the term before Palin used it. He said the phrase invokes images of Nazi Germany, which denied life-saving care to people who were not deemed useful enough to broader society. Adolf Hitler ordered Nazi officials to secretly register, select, and murder handicapped people such as schizophrenics, epileptics, disabled babies and other long-stay hospital patients, according to Dowbiggin.
Palin's death panel lie clearly referred to the government denying medical care in such a way: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will 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. Such a system is downright evil."
That -- obviously -- is very different from Medicare covering completely voluntary counseling sessions in which doctors discuss end-of-life care options with patients. Indeed, "different" seems inadequate; the two concepts are "different" in the way that an airplane is "different" from an orangutan. Even if you set aside Dowbiggin's sensible explanation of the implications of the term "death panel" and look only at Palin's literal words, what she said was the opposite of what is actually happening. In Palin's version, the government decides what care people will receive. The new Medicare regulation simply pays for voluntary sessions in which doctors discuss with patients what care they want to receive.
But in the up-is-down, black-is-white, Sarah-Palin-is-a-truth-teller fantasyland of right-wing media, giving patients resources to make end-of-life treatment decisions -- if they want those resources -- is the same thing as not allowing them to make such decisions at all. And to the truly unhinged -- that would be Daily Caller columnist Tim Daniel -- Medicare coverage for voluntary counseling sessions is nothing less than a dystopian nightmare. Here's Daniel:
Whether or not grandma is run over by a reindeer, Obamacare death panels will finish her off
If grandma narrowly escaped being run over by a reindeer this Christmas, she may still suffer a worse New Years Day fate.
Sarah Palin has once again been proven correct — death panels are back, surprisingly exposed the day after Christmas in the Sunday pages of the New York Times
"Spooky Dudes" behind end-of-life Medicare "incentives":
– The Chief Spooky Dude himself: President Barack Obama. Obama kept this insidious regulation a secret and is more insistent of grandma facing a grinning doctor death panel than defending anything that makes America great. Imagine if this man fought for liberty as fervently as he obviously fought for this onerous issue and other visions of his American dystopian future.
Again: What Daniel is talking about here is a doctor and a patient talking through options for treatment and care -- if the patient wants to have such a conversation. And the government picking up the tab. That's all. You have to wonder what kind of person would try to scare sick senior citizens out of talking about treatment options with their doctor by convincing them that if they do so, a "grinning doctor death panel" will kill them. On second thought, the answer is pretty obvious.