At a tele-town hall meeting with members of the senior advocacy group AARP last month, President Obama could not help but describe one question he received as "kind of morbid."
"I have been told there is a clause in (the health care bill) that everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die," said a caller named Mary from North Carolina. "This bothers me greatly, and I'd like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill."
There is nothing in any health care reform bill before Congress that would require people to "decide how they wish to die."
Conservative talking points from activists and legislators, however, would suggest otherwise.
This rumor gained traction in large part because of comments from New York's former Republican lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey. On a radio show on July 16, McCaughey said she had read the bill and discovered that "Congress would make it mandatory . . . that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care . . . all to do what's in society's best interest . . . and cut your life short."
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) put out a statement on July 23 that suggested as much:
"Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on 'the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration' and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign," they said. "This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law."
In fact, Section 1233 of Democratic House H.R. 3200 would allow Medicare for the first time to cover patient-doctor consultations about end-of-life planning, including discussions about drawing up a living will or planning hospice treatment. Patients could, of course, seek out such advice on their own — but they would not be required to. The provision would limit Medicare coverage to one consultation every five years.