From ‘death panels’ to ‘ death books’

FROM ‘DEATH PANELS’ TO ‘ DEATH BOOKS’…. The far-right campaign against health care reform started with the routine, predictable falsehoods anyone could have seen coming a mile away. Bogus claims about covering illegal immigrants, paying for abortion, and “socialized medicine” were obvious.

But the right does not lack for creativity. Concerned that the more traditional lies may not be sufficient, we soon heard about “death panels.” When the gullible started believing that, the right made the transition to “health-care racism” and “mandatory home inspections,” both of which are imaginary, limited to the minds of right-wing activists and their leaders.

The new one is “death books.”

On Wednesday, James Towey, the former head of Bush’s faith-based initiative, wrote a WSJ op-ed arguing that the Department of Veterans Affairs is pushing an end-of-life planning document, called “Your Life, Your Choices,” that he insisted would give veterans a “hurry-up-and-die message” that is “clear and unconscionable.” Towey imagined “a soldier surviving the war in Iraq and returning without all of his limbs only to encounter a veteran’s health-care system that seems intent on his surrender.” The Wall Street Journal‘s headline read: “The Death Book for Veterans.”

A certain former half-term governor of Alaska found this important, and wouldn’t you know it, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Fox News’ Sean Hannity started talking it up late in the week.

Marcus Baram looked into this, and explained why the Republican activists are wrong.

They failed to mention that the so-called “death book” contains the same advance-care planning required of all health care organizations under federal law, has been in use since 1997 and was developed with the input of interfaith ministers. […]

The VA’s policy is in accordance with the 1990 Patient Self Determination Act, which requires all institutions receiving Medicare funds to provide information to patients regarding end of life, living will and other advance directives. During the Bush administration, the VA changed its regulation to extend the act to cover all VA facilities.

In 2007, after Towey complained that the so-called “death book,” “Your Life, Your Choices – Planning for Future Medical Decisions,” was biased against the right-to-life viewpoint, the VA convened an outside panel of experts to assess and update the booklet.

In his op-ed, Towey stated that this panel did not include any representatives of faith groups or disability rights advocates. In fact, according to the VA, the panel included a priest, a rabbi, a renowned disability rights advocate, and the president of the organization that produces “Five Wishes,” the alternative advance care planning document that Towey is promoting and selling.

The panel supported the use of the “Your Life, Your Choices” booklet but included some suggestions for revising its content. The plans to update and release the booklet were developed under the Bush administration and it is due for release in 2010.

There’s also the question of Towey’s conflict of interest. He’s like to see the VA replace “Your Life, Your Choices” by purchasing booklets published by a non-profit group he founded.

It prompted VetVoice’s Richard Smith to write, “After reading this, it’s apparent that Jim Towey is nothing more than a Sarah Palin wannabe. Except not as smart. Here is my suggestion to Mr. Towey: When Veterans want advice on their care from someone who has never served in the military, nor received care from the Veterans’ Health Administration, we’ll call you.”

Ouch.