01/12/2011 01:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

End-of-Life Discussions Are Not Death Panels

As Republicans take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, GOP leaders say they will immediately try to repeal President Obama's signature healthcare law. Even before the repeal vote takes place, Republicans can lay claim to a key victory in the healthcare battle. Last week, the Obama administration said it would reverse a regulation that would have covered end-of-life planning for Medicare beneficiaries during their annual checkups, after Republicans revived the specter of so-called "death panels."

To explore the issue, Democracy Now! interviewed renowned surgeon and author Dr. Atul Gawande. "End-of-life discussions are not death panels," Dr. Gawande said on the news program January 5th. "Being able to provide funding for discussions that have been shown to have a huge difference in improving the quality of life patients have and, in a recent study published in the New England Journal, also generated longer life for patients by helping them make better decisions about when to stop therapies that have become harmful to them."


Dr. Gawande also discussed what he calls the "art of dying." "We've had a millennium of developing the way that people die, with last rites and a kind of bedside vigil for people. Death used to be a brief unpredictable process," he said, "And now it is a long unpredictable process. Virtually everybody who passes away does not do so with a sudden heart attack, and that's that. It is a months-long dealing with a terminal cancer or a congestive heart failure and so on. And we do not have the rituals for how to even talk about what that process is like. We have now an immense number of studies showing that discussions with doctors are beneficial."


Gawande said that he is not surprised by the Republicans hope to dismantle Obama's health care plan. "The week that the health reform bill passed, I wrote that we should be prepared for the war to come. We remember Medicare passing in 1965 as this historic accomplishment that then went smoothly into becoming a health care program for everybody over 65, without any troubles along the way. But in fact, it was severely under attack from the moment it passed," he said. "But stalemate is a disaster here for the health care system. We have to have ways to move forward, and finding ways through this is going to be an immense test of presidential leadership."

For the complete interview, transcript and audio/video podcast, visit Democracy Now! Join us on Facebook.