Pro-Life Doctor: End-of-Life Counseling is Good, But Government Can’t Dictate

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 19, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Doctor: End-of-Life Counseling is Good, But Government Can’t Dictate

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 19
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — A physician who leads a national organization for Christian doctors say there is nothing wrong with end-of-life counseling, but they are worried about how the government-run health care bills implement it.

The House bill’s provisions have been labeled "death panels" because they could encourage assisted suicide or health care rationing.

The language in Section 1233 in the 1,000-page House health reform bill, HR 3200, appears innocuous, but they have ignited a firestorm among critics. The section would reimburse physicians for advance care planning consultations with any Medicare beneficiary.

The provision would pay for doctors to have those conversations about all options, but in three states that could include assisted suicide. It could also included rationing lifesaving medical treatment or getting patients to volunteer to give up food and water.

Dr. Gene Rudd, an OBGYN and senior vice president of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, says "such conversations are part of good health care and should be encouraged."

However, he worries that the provision could require physicians use standardized language to counsel patients when treatment should be patient-specific.

“It’s nothing novel here,” he said. “The novelty is the government then may be deciding that it can say what ought to be said in those sessions, not the fact that they ought to have these sessions and these discussions."

CMDA Senior Vice President, Gene Rudd, MD, says the problem is the "devil is in the details."

“The House bill promotes end-of-life counseling – something we know is consistent with quality of care," he explains. "The concern is whether government will presume to dictate the details for that counseling. The bill allows for that."

"Will it include a presentation of assisted suicide as an option in states where it is legal – or perhaps in all states?" he wonders.

Rudd is also concerned that a pro-euthanasia group called ‘Compassion & Choices’ has publicly admitted to writing the controversial portions of the legislation that deal with rationing.

On the organization’s web site, a spokesman confirms Compassion’s involvement, writing: "Compassion & Choices has worked tirelessly with supportive members of Congress to include in proposed reform legislation a provision requiring Medicare to cover patient consultation with their doctors about end-of-life choice (section 1233 of House Bill 3200)."

Compassion & Choices is an offshoot of a 1980s organization called the Hemlock Society, America’s leading advocate for assisted suicide. That worries Rudd.

"Since a pro-euthanasia group is boasting of having influenced this language in the bill, we must remain suspect," he said.

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