09/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stop Using People with Disabilities as the Poster Children for the Republican Attack on Healthcare

There has been a lot of misinformation and downright lies concerning the healthcare overhaul. Sarah Palin's usual inflammatory and inept speechifying reached a new level of obfuscation when she said there would be "death panels" to decide whether the elderly and disabled should live or die. Senator's Grassley's ratification of Palin's know-nothing statement only reinforced the level of Republican propagandizing around big lies.

Central to the big lies and smears is the constant invocation of people with disabilities. Everyone seems concerned that disabled patients would be terminated before the end of their natural lives. The reality is that health care bill allows insurance companies to reimburse patients who want to discuss whether or not to have living wills and how to structure those most effectively for the comfort zone of the person.

This rhetorical concern for the disabled is fascinating coming from the right, which has routinely worked against extending accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying that it would cost businesses too much to retrofit their environments.

But there are strange moments when the right and disability activists have become bedfellows. One was the controversy around Terri Schiavo, in which right-to-lifers joined with people concerned that the comatose patient was being deprived of life support because of her disability status. Another area has been assisted suicide, in which fundamentalists have held that no one should be allowed to take their own lives, and in which disability activists feel that given limited health resources the disabled will be pressured into assisted suicide by insurance companies and impatient doctors.

However, in the case of the health-care bill, there should be no such alliances. Everyone, disabled or not, should create a living will now when they are capable of doing so without confusion and not under the pressure of a serious illness.

It is important that people with disabilities speak out against being used as the negative poster children of the Republican's smear campaign. The reforms advocated in the health care bill would specifically benefit people with disabilities by stopping the current practice in which insurance companies can terminate people for their health status. As for living wills, if Terri Schiavo had made one, there would have been no controversy around her death.