Obama Admin Removes Death Panels After Pro-Life Backlash

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 5, 2011   |   11:35AM   |   Washington, DC

After massive pro-life backlash following the publication of new rules instituting “death panels,” the Obama administration has agreed to remove them from ObamaCare.

The “death panels” caused considerable concern for pro-life groups, which believe they would have given financial incentives to doctors to hold end-of-life discussions with patients that will lead to the rationing of their medical care.

Under the regulations the Obama administration put in place in December, which LifeNews.com was the first to cover, doctors would instruct patients in the annual “voluntary” exams to write “advance directives listing the kind of treatment they wish to receive or not receive if they are unable to make their own medical decisions.

Although the advanced directives apparently can’t be used to facilitate an assisted suicide, there was concern physicians will pressure or persuade patients to make decisions that would ration care or withdraw lifesaving medical treatment.

Democrats dropped the idea during consideration of the health care law in Congress after significant public pressure and now the Obama administration has followed suit — just days after the new rules went into effect on January 1. Though Obama administration officials cited procedural reasons for the decision, the New York Times indicates political considerations — the enormous outpouring of opposition — played a role.

An administration official authorized by the Obama administration to speak with the press, told the Times today: “We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically.”

“We will amend the regulation to take out voluntary advance care planning,” the official said. “This should not affect beneficiaries’ ability to have these voluntary conversations with their doctors.”

Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is in charge of implementing ObamaCare but has come under heavy criticism for his pro-rationing views, issued the new “death panel” regulations. The Times indicates the decision to drop the death panels upset many Obama administration officials in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Elizabeth D. Wickham, executive director of LifeTree, which warned LifeNews.com in early December about the problematic regulations, worried “Patients will lose the ability to control treatments at the end of life.”

LifeTree said The Federal Register (page 73406) published a new funding rule for “voluntary” advance care planning consultations that changes Department of Health and Human Services regulation pertaining to Medicare and Medicaid patients

Voluntary advance planning is defined as:

“Verbal or written information regarding the following areas: (1) An individual’s ability to prepare an advance directive in the case where an injury or illness causes the individual to be unable to make health care decisions[; and] (2) Whether or not the physician is willing to follow the individual’s wishes as expressed in an advance directive.”

“The new regulation states that advanced care planning consultations will now be offered (and funded) as part of the initial wellness visit for medicare patients and during all subsequent annual visits,” LifeTree says.

The group complained at the time that media outlets did not mention anything about the changes after they were published.

“Has there been any media attention to this important change in health care coverage for all those receiving medicare and medicaid services? You will recall the uproar about death panels, but this week funding for these consultation sessions became part of general government regulations without fanfare,” the group added.

And Burke Balch, director of National Right to Life’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, warned, “The danger is that subsidized advance care planning will not just discover and implement patient treatment preferences but rather be used to nudge or pressure older people to agree to less treatment because that is less expensive.”

The Democrat who started the latest national debate over the inclusion of so-called “death panels” by the Obama administration into federal regulations, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, later said he regretted doing so and that he shouldn’t have kept it secret.

The death panels initially came under fire when former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin used the phrase to describe the advance care planning consultations found in Section 1233 of the bill before the final version received Congressional approval. The infamous Section 1233 of HR 3200 would have federalized “voluntary” end-of-life “consultations,” and, in three states, had patients advised they could seek a legal assisted suicide.