AARP Backs House Health Care Bill Despite Death Panels, Assisted Suicide Issues

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 5, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

AARP Backs House Health Care Bill Despite Death Panels, Assisted Suicide Issues

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 5
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — The nation’s most prominent organization for seniors is expected to formalize its endorsement of the House health care reform bill today. The backing from AARP for the bill, which includes massive abortion funding, comes despite concerns about death panels and assisted suicide.

The House is expected to vote Saturday on the bill and, when it does, it will have the backing of the powerful seniors group.

"We started this debate more than two years ago with the twin goals of making coverage affordable to our younger members and protecting Medicare for Seniors," said AARP CEO Barry Rand in a written statement.

"We’ve read the Affordable Health Care for America Act and we can say with confidence that it meets those goals with improved benefits for people in Medicare and needed health insurance market reforms to help ensure every American can purchase affordable health coverage," Rand added.

But, pro-life advocates can say with confidence that the bill also presents a myriad of concerns for seniors.

The new bill, H.R. 3962, contains the controversial "death panels" panned in the previous legislation and direct taxpayer-funded promotion of assisted suicide in the states where it is currently legal.

HR 3962 contains two clear end-of-life provisions — including one that requires insurance companies to distribute advance directives and other planning tools to all who are insured on the new government-run exchange.

The other allows Medicare reimbursement for optional end-of-life planning consultation.

Both provisions appear to exclude assisted suicide from the consultations and advance directives, but those exclusions have no meaning in the Washington and Oregon (and possibly soon in Montana) where assisted suicides are legal.

There, state law says that "death with dignity," the legal terms in those states for assisted suicide, does not actually constitute assisted suicide.

In both states, state law says actions under the assisted suicide statute "shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law."

As a result, in Washington and Oregon, Medicare reimbursed consultations could involve assisted suicide planning and advance directives or other planning materials distributed by mandate. Thus, taxpayer-funded information provided under both provisions will include assisted suicide options in those states where it is legal.

Looking at the first provision, Section 240, authored by Rep. Baron Hill, in Indiana Democrat, requires insurance companies to “provide for the dissemination of information related to end-of-life planning to individuals seeking enrollment in Exchange-participating health benefits plans offered through the Exchange” and shall present “(A) the option to establish advanced directives and physician’s orders for life sustaining treatment according to the laws of the State in which the individual resides; and (B) information related to other planning tools.”

The Hill amendment says the material in this section “shall not include advanced directives or other planning tools that list or describe as an option suicide, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

But, this section is meaningless in the states that have legalized assisted suicide because the term “death with dignity” is used to describe what is commonly known as assisted suicide, and the law defines “death with dignity” such that it is statutorily not considered assisted suicide.

Hill anticipated this obfuscation in the laws of Washington and Oregon and included a prohibition on providing materials that promoted the intentional “hastening of death.”

However, when Pelosi put together the final version of H.R. 3962, this language, intended to cover the re-defining of assisted suicide in more flattering terms, was removed from the committee version of the bill.

Meanwhile, Section 1233, included at the request of euthanasia proponents and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who is an assisted suicide proponent, adds “advance care planning consultations” as a new optional Medicare-covered benefit.

This is the controversial death panels section that has come under criticism over the last few months.

The consultation must be between a physician (or other health care professional) and the patient, and may be conducted every five years or more often if the patient’s condition worsens. The pro-life community has raised serious concerns about the potential for coercing seniors to make end-of-life choices that are cost saving, but not life-affirming.

With regard to assisted suicide, language in the section specifies that “Nothing in this section shall–…encourage the promotion of suicide or assisted suicide.” However, as is the case with the Hill amendment, the provision is meaningless in the states because of their definition of assisted suicide.

The outcome of the Blumenauer language is that Medicare will pay for end-of-life consultations that include assisted suicide options in states where assisted suicide is legal.

As a result, members of the House who vote this week in favor of HR 3962 will be voting in part to support taxpayer-funding of the promotion of assisted suicide in these two states, and others that legalize assisted suicide if the bill becomes law.

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