How the GOP Brought Death Panels to Life

With the health care debate still sagging under the weight of rumors, misunderstandings and outright lies, it is worth examining how the most egregious distortion got its start.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer describes how his initial proposal requiring Medicare to reimburse for patient-doctor discussions about terminal illness became the source of a bizarre campaign against government-sponsored “death panels.”

Blumenauer describes how the proposed language initially met with near-universal support from Republicans, Democrats and even conservatives. “Indeed, the majority of Congressional Republicans supported the similar provisions for terminally ill elderly patients that were part of the 2003 prescription drug bill,” wrote Blumenauer.

The demagoguery began on July 16, 2009, with Betsy McCaughey, a former republican lieutenant governor of New York, who attacked the end-of-life provisions in a radio interview, claiming it “would make it mandatory, absolutely require, that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”

The blatantly false charge quickly grew legs on right wing websites and within two days, was being mouthed by top Republicans, including GOP house minority leader John Boehner (R-OH), who declared the provision “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law.”

“Such behavior is a graphic example of how the issue of health care was hijacked,” wrote Blumenauer. “Town hall meetings became dominated by people shouting down their opponents and yelling misinformation. Some town hall participants even told politicians to keep government out of their Medicare—something that would be difficult to pull off since Medicare is a government program.”