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Health Care Death Panels: Fact Or Fiction?

Written by Wellness Club on February 8, 2012 – 5:11 pm -

Opinion By Nurse Mark


The internet has become a wonderful source of information and knowledge. It has also become a source of mis-information, dis-information, and outright propaganda. We are all subjected daily via our email in-boxes to calls for our attention. Those who craft these calls are skilled, and it is often difficult to sort out fact from fiction – since the fiction often includes elements of truth and fact. The internet has become a popular forum for those with a political axe to grind as shown by the following note from LaRose:


I received an email about a phone call from a neurosurgeon to a radio talk show with some disturbing news about proposed medical care after 70.  Apparently this phone call has been buzzing around the internet since December.  Its hard to know if this is real or a scare tactic.

I thought I should go through you first as I know Dr. Myatt is very busy.   Here are my questions:

(1) If there was a meeting wouldn’t the organizations in question take a formal and public stand against the proposed policy?

(2) Does Dr. Myatt have any insight that she would share with me and the people who sent me this email?

If Dr. Myatt does not have time or wish to comment, I certainly understand.   I’m just confused and am searching for credible information.



Dr. Myatt and I are quite familiar with this information that has been circulating the internet and email circuit since last December and I’ll comment for both of us.

The short course is that the call did occur, the caller’s bona fides have never been established, and the Neurosurgeon doctor board denies knowledge of the caller.

It looks to us like the caller might have been perpetrating a hoax on the radio show listeners.

This is too bad since unfortunately much of what the caller claims has a grain of truth to it – any socialized medical system must have controls and limits or it will quickly collapse under the weight (expense) of the demands placed on it – so, yes, there will have to be tough decisions made about who gets what. Dr. Myatt and I are certain that it will be the old, the disabled, the terminal who will be denied first… and that the slope will be a slippery one once the gov’t bureaucrats start down it.


Now, here is Nurse Mark’s analysis and commentary on this issue:

As someone who spent six long and difficult years in becoming a naturalized citizen of these United States, it pains me deeply to see yet another example of the rancor, vitriol, and divisiveness that is gripping my newly-adopted country. The partisan bickering that is taking place and the severe intolerance for opposing viewpoints is distressing to say the least.

This particular issue – Health Care Reform – is one such example of divisiveness.

Those who favor universal, or government-mandated, or socialized, or reformed (however you want to describe it) health care are thrilled to be able to impose their views and desires upon those who are less enthusiastic about the concept. After all, they know it won’t work unless everyone is made to pay for it – there can be no exceptions or the scheme falls apart.

Those opposed to it are angry that they are being forced to pay for something that they don’t want and don’t believe is necessary – but that someone else does want. They are acutely aware that they are financing a system that they do not support.

This has led to endless squabbling, complete with name-calling, threats, misrepresentation of fact, and outright lies and propaganda by both sides of the issue as they strive to strengthen their own cause and weaken the cause of their opponents.

The November 22, 2011 Mark Levin radio show segment, where a caller claiming to be a “brain surgeon” made statements regarding neurosurgical care for seniors under President Obama’s Health Care Reform Law is one such example of the posturing and fear-mongering being perpetrated by both camps in this argument.

There can be no doubt that this call occurred – it was widely heard and while it has apparently been removed from Levin’s radio show website it is easily available for listening from any number of other locations on the internet and from legions of emails currently circulating which include the audio or video clips. Further, simply “google-searching” the term “neurosurgeon levin show death panels” will provide thousands of video, audio, and written transcript records of this call. For example, one such transcript can be found here:

There is also no doubt that the caller used language that was frightening and inflammatory. Terms like “death panels,”  concepts like “comfort care only for patients over 70,” and invoking the specter of Nazi Germany and the calling of people “units” rather than “patients,” all was obviously intended to alarm and frighten listeners.

There is however some reasonable doubt as to the bona fides of the caller, who claimed to be a neurosurgeon privy to confidential Health and Human Services (HHS) information.

Hundreds of “left-wing,” “progressive,” and “liberal” blogs and websites immediately sprang into vehement “attack mode” to discredit this call by any means possible ranging from intelligent discussion and reason to name-calling and even threats of violence. Their goal (or agenda) obviously was and is to protect “their” president and “their” cherished health care reforms from this and similar attacks.

Further, The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) promptly issued the following statements:

The AANS and CNS are unaware of any federal government document directing that advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 years of age will not be indicated and only supportive care treatment will be provided.  Furthermore, in conducting our own due diligence, the caller who identified himself as a brain surgeon is not actually a neurosurgeon, nor was there any session at the recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons’ scientific meeting in Washington, DC at which a purported government document calling for the rationing of neurosurgical care was discussed.

Conservative blogs and websites, in response, launched their own campaigns to build upon and perpetuate this radio show call and it’s disturbing accusations for their own political gain. While the interview cannot be found on Levin Show website it will live on forever on the internet and will no doubt resurface whenever the fires of “right-wing” or “conservative” outrage need to be re-kindled – particularly the outrage of seniors, the disabled, or the terminally ill.

There is no doubt that the Health Care Reform bill contained a provision that allows Medicare to pay for doctor appointments about end-of-life counseling. Supporters of the bill celebrate this as advancing the cause of giving people more control over end-of-life decisions. Opponents claim that this is simply politically-correct language promoting euthanasia.

The term “Death Panels” was coined by former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin – who has since publicly backed away from it in an interview given to The National Review on November 17, 2011 saying:

“To me, while reading that section of the bill, it became so evident that there would be a panel of bureaucrats who would decide on levels of health care, decide on those who are worthy or not worthy of receiving some government-controlled coverage,” she said. “Since health care would have to be rationed if it were promised to everyone, it would therefore lead to harm for many individuals not able to receive the government care. That leads, of course, to death.”

“The term I used to describe the panel making these decisions should not be taken literally,” said Palin. The phrase is “a lot like when President Reagan used to refer to the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire.’ He got his point across. He got people thinking and researching what he was talking about. It was quite effective. Same thing with the ‘death panels.’ I would characterize them like that again, in a heartbeat.”

Despite distancing herself from her earlier characterization, the term “death panel” has stuck, and any attempt by government bureaucrats to limit or curtail health care benefits in any way for any reason will surely be met with cries of “death panel” and “rationing” by those affected or concerned.

The Health Care Reform act promises to be a divisive thing in American politics for years to come.

Proponents of the Health Care Reform act claim, with some truth, that it will usher in a new era of fairness where no-one will be without needed medical care.

Detractors say, with equal truth, that any such system must have some limits and constraints or costs will quickly spiral out of control and the system will collapse.

People intuitively understand that health care reform is about lowering costs, and that things like end-of-life care can be quite costly – leading them to wonder how cost controls will be decided and managed and conjuring up visions of bureaucratic “ethics committees” and “utilization committees” – which become code words for “death panels.”

People also intuitively understand that many of our more expensive health care issues are as a result of “lifestyle choices” and they object to being forced to pay for what they perceive as being the consequences of self-destructive behavior by others. There are also many who object to being forced to pay for things that they find morally or religiously offensive to them – the reproductive issues of contraception and abortion are but one highly-charged example.

The Mark Levin Neurosurgeon call-in is just an example of what we have to look forward to as the opposing sides of this issue battle it out.

So, LaRose, what is Dr. Myatt’s and Nurse Mark’s “take” on the email that you received?

  • The call occurred.
  • There is no proof that the caller was who he claimed to be and the medical governing bodies deny knowing the caller.
  • There is no proof for his claims of information regarding denial of services to seniors or those on government programs.
  • Medicare payment for “end of life counseling” is unquestionably a part of the Health Care Reform Act.
  • There is no mention of “death panels” or anything like them in the Health Care Reform Act.
  • President Obama rebutted the claim regarding “death panels” in a health care address saying: “Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.”
  • It looks to us like this call was a clever bit of propaganda intended to whip up opposition to the Health Care Reform Act.
  • The Health Care Reform Act is going to be the source of endless, acrimonious, and divisive debate for years to come.

It is our opinion that the Health Care Reform Act will fail to achieve it’s goals to the satisfaction of all of it’s many proponents, and will eventually collapse under the weight of their demands of it – thus guaranteeing even more divisiveness and bitter fighting.

Dr. Myatt and I are also of the opinion that any socialized or “universal” health care scheme must necessarily involve some rationing of care. There is just not enough money to provide every service to every person.

In order to provide some care to all, all care will not be available to some.

Will that mean some services will be denied to the terminally ill, or to the severely disabled, or the elderly? Will that mean that especially costly treatments or drugs will be limited? We believe the answer to that is “yes,” under a socialized health care system there must be rationing of services, and someone will need to decide who gets those services.

Do we like that reality? No!

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