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Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer

Posted: August 16, 2009 10:30 PM

"Death Panel" Scare Tactic May Backfire on Republicans

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Last week we had a death in our family - a young person suddenly taken from the ones he loved by a tragic accident. That may make me particularly sensitive to the way Republicans are using the powerful emotions surrounding end-of-life decisions in their desperate attempt to stop President Obama's heath insurance reforms.

Of course the notion that the Obama health insurance reform includes a requirement for a panel to determine whether or not someone gets end-of-life care is simply a lie - made up out of whole cloth by people who specialize in generating fear among average Americans to protect wealthy special interests - in this case the health insurance industry.

And it's not just the far right fringe of the Republican Party that is spreading this lie. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with these bills knows it is untrue, but just yesterday, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch refused to acknowledge that fact when given the opportunity on This Week.

In fact, the House proposal provides reimbursement to physicians who counsel families and patients on their care options if they were to be confronted by terminal illness - on living wills, hospice care, power of attorney and other issues that can come up at the end of life. Right now the government doesn't pay for those consultations, so not surprisingly, it doesn't happen as often as it should.

Far from giving the government the power to decide who lives or dies, the goal of the proposal is to assure that families are themselves empowered to make those critical decisions - and that is exactly where the power belongs.

Like most people my age, I have been involved in many end-of-life decisions for loved ones. My mother, father, mother-in-law, and father-in-law have all passed away after long illnesses. Those decisions are complex and they are emotional. Often they don't involve black and white judgment calls. To the extent possible, it is extremely important to know the wishes of the person who is ill - and that often involves a living will that expresses his or her wishes, because in the end they are often unable to express them directly.

It is unforgivable that the Republicans would intentionally distort these provisions of the health insurance reform bill in order to prey upon fears that the power to make these critical decisions would be ripped from the hands of families and given to government bureaucrats.

And when voters begin to discover their intentional deceit the very power of the emotions they are trying to unleash can - and should - create a massive backlash.

That is particularly true since historically it has, in fact, been the far right that has tried to snatch decisions about end of life from their rightful place in the hands of families and to inject Government decision makers in their place.

Recall that when the husband of Terry Schiavo made the difficult judgment to end her life in a persistent vegetative state, it was Tom DeLay and the Republicans that tried to get Congress to intervene in that decision. At first they thought it looked like good politics. But it didn't take long for a powerful backlash to form - driven by families all across America - who had themselves faced those judgments and didn't want Tom DeLay and George Bush to substitute the decisions of politicians for their own.

This time, they may face a similar fate as voters come to understand that - for the sake of partisan advantage, and to protect powerful special interests - Republicans in Congress are trying to deny patients and families the right to consult physicians about all of the options for the end-of-life care- if they want that consultation - and even if they can't pay for it.

By taking this position, it is the Republicans who are standing in the way of empowerment for families.

In their attempt to enflame the powerful emotions surrounding the deaths of loved ones by spreading intentional lies, the Republicans have stooped to a new low. The Terry Schiavo case should have taught the Republicans that some emotions are too precious to be exploited for partisan political advantage. Apparently it did not.

But when Americans begin to discover just how far the Republicans have been willing to go to stop health insurance reform, they may receive a new lesson. Republicans will learn that combining those powerful emotions with deceit can create an explosive mixture that they will find impossible to forget.

Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.