Seniors Groups Say Claims False That Health Care Bill Promotes Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 28, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Seniors Groups Say Claims False That Health Care Bill Promotes Euthanasia

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 28
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Seniors groups are taking issue with claims from a conservative health care advocate and House Republicans who say the health care bill in Congress could be used to promote euthanasia. At issue are provisions that detractors say require senior citizens to submit to end-of-life consultations.

Betsy McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor and conservative health expert first brought up the concerns.

She says the health care restructuring legislation contains a provision that would require Medicare coverage for an end-of-life consultation once every five years and more frequently if someone has a terminal illness.

The bill states the consultation would include "an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.”

McCaughey claims the provision could easily be used to push seniors to forego lifesaving medical treatment or basic nutrition such as food and water.

House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter followed McCaughey with their own statement that reported on saying the concerns are valid.

They said the measure “could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing and physician-assisted suicide, because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself.”

But AARP Executive Vice President John Rother says the bill does not pose any such euthanasia problems.

He says the provision would require Medicare to cover the consultations the first time but does not mandate that individuals receive the end-of-life consultation. Rother also says the consultations take place with the patient and a doctor or nurse practitioner and not a government bureaucrat.

“This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed,” he said in a statement, according to Politico. “To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion — especially for any family that has been forced to make the difficult decisions on care for loved ones approaching the end of their lives.”

Jon Keyserling, vice president for public policy and counsel at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, talked with the Politico web site about the concerns.

“I was surprised that any responsible legislative analyst would indicate this is a mandatory provision. That is just a misreading of the language and, certainly, of the intent," he said.

McCaughey defended her statements in a Politico interview and said the bill may not directly mandate the consultation but it would pressure seniors nonetheless.

“In so many words, it is — because although it is presented in the bill as a Medicare service, when a doctor or a nurse approaches an elderly person who is in poor health, facing a decline in health, and raises these issues, it is not offering a service. It is pressuring them,” McCaughey said Monday. “I would not want that to occur when I am not at my parents’ bedside.”

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