Death Panels: Will Politicians Really Kill Grandma?

Dan Pattarozzi BS,RRT


While many policies our government have enacted over the last thirty years or so can easily be deemed Orwellian, one that has everyone jumping and shouting currently is actually about personal choice.  The new Medicare guidelines and regulations that became effective on January 1, 2011 allow people covered by Medicare to have a yearly physical exam that will also include reimbursement to the doctor for counseling them on the likelihood of surviving whatever condition they have– or whatever unforeseen event may take place– and how far they would like their treatment to go given their prognosis.  While this practice within medicine is not new, or even rare, this new regulation will ensure the doctor gets paid for doing it.  Paying the doc ensures people talk about it, and that ensures some education will be thrown around and bounce into people’s heads.  This education, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, will always benefit the patient.  Without it how can someone be expected to make a truly informed decision about their own life?

All the brouhaha over “death panels” has become a distraction to the people of America ( particularly the voting elderly), and those who protest a move towards informed choices seem to me to be those that would like to usurp personal freedom.  Humorous that the party which has “promoted” being for the people’s will with this issue is hell-bent on telling elderly or disabled Americans that more choice is somehow less freedom.  Somehow because death is mentioned as a part of this counseling it must be evil and irresponsible.  As a healthcare professional myself, I can only see good things coming from people discussing their goals for care, which in essence is fighting their death.  As so many of today’s medical practices and technologies have only been in use for 50 to 60 years, and the mean age of death has advanced some 20 years over that time as a result, utilizing these advancements is fighting “natural” death.  With this new rule more people will be exposed to conversations about their death and will be free, free mind you, to choose the way in which they die.

July of 2009 is really when this party started over “death panels” or  “end-of-life-care.”  At that time the United States House of Representatives had passed through all its’ committees a bill entitled “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” which had language that, as a healthcare provider, I found to be standard operating procedure for anyone in a hospital who was facing an end-of-life situation.  For no obvious reason other than to create a distracting non-issue to gain political hit-points, Betsy McCaughey a former New York lieutenant governor said in a radio interview that Medicare would require recipients every five years to have their doctors tell them how to end their lives sooner.  Please read HR 3200, Sec 1233 and see if this true.  Sarah Palin then started a campaign of misinformation saying that the provisions called for an involuntary “death panel” to be convened and decide how and when the elderly would die.  It’s kind of like saying Jews have horns and eat Christian children for dinner, a little Goebbelsesque frankly.

So due to the public “outrage” Palin et al cooked up, Rep. Charles Grassley (R-IA) came out on August 13, 2009 and reported that all the language regarding end-of-life-care had been cut from the provision in its entirety.  Thus the bill that went to the Senate and then to the President deleted language that would incentivize doctors to discuss what their patients’  goals for care would be should their conditions/diseases progress quickly, or if something unforeseen happens (apparently discussing this is taboo, and not doing so can be cruel in my experience).  Good work for fear-mongers, and a bad day for those of us who know and care what really happens to people who don’t make these decisions.

So dying dignified at home or in a hospital/hospice with one’s family and friends at their side,  enjoying their last moments ever together is apparently bad for old people.  Being hooked to a machine that breathes for them and having “nutrition” slowly oozed into their gut via tubes while they languish without the strength to speak because they neglected to specify their care is good for them.  More people being free to know these outcomes, and choose accordingly is now being lauded by the Right as undemocratic and an invasion on freedom.  But nowhere is it mentioned that poor choices leading to more expensive care will be limited despite the pain and suffering and lack of quality of life that ensues because of those choices.  The current right-wing talking points have alluded to doctors surreptitiously discussing these issues with their patients against their will in order to profit.  To oppose this counseling, and other responsible Medicare reforms, is to oppose Medicare as a whole.  With one the most consistent and active voting blocks being the elderly, one would think politicians would be on their side, not exploiting their natural fear of death.  No rationing is being called for, no dying is being called for, only informed choices are being offered.

Editor’s Note: Dan Pattarozzi is a licensed Respiratory Therapist with over sixteen years experience in hospital, pharmacy, oncology, and home care, as both a service provider and educator.

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14 Responses to Death Panels: Will Politicians Really Kill Grandma?

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Larry Linn
    January 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    We have Death Panels now! They are called HMO’s. When any of their patients become seriously ill, a Medical Panel is called for a meeting. The accountants and attorneys declare that the patient is cured, or the available treatment is declared to be “experimental”. Nothing will change.

  2. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Liam Fox
    January 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Great Piece! Makes a clear point about the reality, and necessity, of responsible end of life counseling, and the fear-mongering misinformation generated by the right-wing echo chamber. This freshmen class in congress, in addition to the Republican veterans of opposition & gridlock, are going to spin non-issues like this into a quagmire of confusion until they drain the last drops of usefulness from a failing system and relegate themselves to white-collar street-theater… while their true constituents (the corporations / health insurance companies) enjoy an unregulated orgy of exploitation of the American people without the interference of a pesky representative government protecting them.

    Over 50 million Americans are without health insurance and these asshats are going in fighting the few gains that have been won. F*&K ‘em. Do like Kucinich suggests; if they want a fight, go for single payer, universal health care… including end of life counseling and coverage for all women’s reproductive health choices.

  3. Gilbert Mercier
    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    January 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    America has the dubious privilege to have not only the most expensive health care system in the world , at almost twice the cost compared to the EU, and to add insult to injury, it is also far from being stellar, that is of course unless you are rich and cost of medical care is not an issue.

    The problem with America’s health care system is that it is “for profit”. Profit for private insurance companies and big profit for doctors. For example, a specialist in the private sector in France charges less than half of what the same specialist charges in the US.

    Cuba has universal health care, and arguably better quality care. It is pretty sad considering that the Cuban economy is hanging on by a thread. Great article Dan, and our warm welcome aboard News Junkie Post.

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  5. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1tracystewart
    January 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    I was told by a friend that something called “Wise Health Insurance” is offering health insurance plans starting just $1 a day. That is some thing we all can agree.

  6. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1billt
    January 4, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Some years ago my great-aunt was in the hospital with a critical problem. They wanted her to believe it wasn’t worth the high cost of surgery and she died instead of being helped. That was the traditional commercial insurance industry. There are already death panels in our medical and insurance system long before Obama ever ran for President. Please stop going on and on about how Obamacare is evil, the commercial system is just as evil, and has been so for a very long time.

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  8. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1L OBrian
    January 4, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I agree with most of the comments above. HMO’s do have “death panels”. It’s even worse for anyone without any insurance – these unfortunate souls go straight to the “Republican Death Panel”, which means: If you don’t have (or are denied) private insurance (because of a preexisting condition, for example), or huge amounts of money to pay for treatment (such as Limbaugh in Hawaii!), the Republicans simply tell you to “drop dead!”

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1g reg
    January 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Is it really beneficial to keep grandma alive and spend millions of dollars, when there is a 0% chance she won’t make it another year? Even when she wants to die, we won’t let her and keep her alive against her own will…. It may sound kind of f$@ed up, but maybe we need death panels. Its not a good political platform to run on, but it might make the world a better place

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1Jarik
    January 5, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Nope, death panels are one of the stupidest misnomers of this year. Pure FUD, plain and simple. Grandma has a much better chance with the gov’t than she does with private insurance companies.

    Also, the description here makes me want to claw my eyes out with a rusty spoon.

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1Kevin
    January 5, 2011 at 1:52 am

    I agree that the term is dumb but your assessment that Grandma is better off with the government doesn’t take into account many fairly well off elderly people who have kick ass insurance. I have several older relatives who do quite well with their insurance. You can make the case that less financially well off grandma *may* be better off with government care.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Terex
    January 5, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Good call. I’m only saying when it comes down to end of life care…I’m fairly confident that the government is less likely going to try to save money on her treatment (let’s face it, they suck at that) then some private insurer.

    You make a good point.

  13. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tranis
    January 5, 2011 at 1:54 am

    So what if it doesn’t take into account the well off elderly. Are those the majority? No. Do your relatives represent the norm? No.

    On a similar note, my grandmother has millions yet still uses Medicare to pay for up to 1/3 of her health care costs. I love her but that’s bulls**t.

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