19 August 2009

Death Panels

Like most of the media, a recent NY Times article [Note 1.] condemns crazy right-wingers for concocting the “stubborn yet false rumor” that the Obama administration is planning to adopt “death panels” to decide who gets medical care and who doesn’t.  The Times characterizes the very notion of “death panels” as baseless rumor - a false “assertion” that has somehow spread despite an “avalanche of reports laying out why it was false.”  The term evokes a “specter of government-sponsored forced euthanasia.” 

To be sure, there are some people who think literal Nazi-style forced euthanasia and abortion are on the White House agenda.  However, reports of such opinions are straw men used by the White House and media to discredit with one sweep all opposition to the president’s plan.  

The term “death panel” should not be limited to such concrete exaggerations as forced euthanasia committees; the use of the term does not indicate irrational fears.  On the contrary, there are very rational reasons to fear and condemn the president’s agenda.  It is obviously not correct to assign intentions of forced euthanasia and abortion to the Obama administration, but it is certainly appropriate to extrapolate the consequences of the centralized planning it is pushing for.  Such projections are perfectly valid, and indeed, vitally important.  By embracing socialism, Barack Obama has opened himself up to this.  It is fair play to project the ominous trends of his administration and to compare it to the tyrannies of the twentieth century, which were all based on the same socialist principles.

The fact is that opponents of Obama’s health care reform need not exaggerate or embellish the administration’s policies to show that it is a disaster in the making.  “Death panels” properly refer not to a hidden, sinister agenda but to the policies of which the president openly boasts.

The Times article itself provides a perfect example of the stunning inability (or unwillingness) of modern “liberals” to connect ideas.  As an alleged demonstration of how ridiculous and unfounded are the claim’s of Obama’s opponents, the piece quoted Betsy McCaughey as saying that the economic stimulus bill “would create a bureaucracy to ‘monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost-effective.”  The Times gleefully this as a refutation:

The legislation did not direct the coordinator to dictate doctors’ treatments.  A separate part of the law- regarding a council set up to coordinate research comparing the effectiveness of treatments - states that the council’s recommendations cannot “be construed as mandates of clinical guidelines for payent, coverage or treatment.”[Again, Note 1, emphasis mine.]

So, the fact that a federal bureaucracy, which holds mammoth regulatory power over the medical industry, calls its commands “recommendations” is supposed to show that McCaughey exaggerated?  Far from refuting her point, the example proves it.


It is not a misrepresentation to call an all-powerful government board that controls access to health services a “death panel.”  It is a perfectly apt label.  What else shall we call a central committee of bureaucrats who make “recommendations” that must be obeyed, meting out from a dwindling pile of loot (dwindling, because the American health industry will be choked to death; loot, because it is paid for by the seized earnings of citizens and the virtual enslavement of medical professionals) every treatment, therapy, medicine, test, doctor visit, and hospital stay?  What better than “death panel” could capture the meaning of a council of wise government officials who sit around a table deciding who gets what health care, like the Three Fates, spinning, weaving, and - yes - cutting?

The essence of Obama’s plan is to pool the earnings of all citizens into one pile from which this solemn panel will dole out portions.  Of course, the actual details of this are much more complicated than that - necessarily so, for complexity provides the obscurity that lets the president and Congress get away with it.  The Obama administration cannot summarily take over private insurance (such as it is) in the manner of a South American dictator.  Instead, the White House explains that all they really wish to do is tell the insurance companies what they can charge for products, and what they must pay out to the customers that they are forced to have.  Nor can the Obama administration seize citizen’s paychecks directly; it is less upsetting to the public to tax, inflate, and regulate away their earnings in innumerable indirect ways.  

The ideology that drives Barack Obama’s health care “reform” is: to each according to his need, from each according to his ability.   As such, it is manifestly unjust.  It severs the earner from the earned, enshrines need as the standard of value, and holds citizens at the mercy of politician’s whims.

Let us now consider the opposite of the president’s plan: the health care that would exist in a free country (and did exist when America was more free than it is now).  When a private individual has to make a decision about his health (or that of a dependent family member), it is indeed life and death that is at stake.  It is a fact of reality: people must sometimes make hard choices and painful decisions.  But the consequences of those decisions directly affect only themselves.  They can neither force others to pay for them nor be forced to pay for others.  

In a free market, private insurance companies would exist to offer a range of plans that people could purchase - or not - as they see fit.  Individuals would visit their doctors, seek treatments, and consume medicines according to their own standards and means.  If they want health care (or anything else, for that matter) they must purchase it with their own earnings; they cannot force others to pay for it.

The reigning principle of free-market health care - as opposed to the Obama administration’s socialist system - is justice.

The president is counting on his ability to cancel the true meaning of his policies by using words that obscure their nature, or denying labels that are apt.  Don’t let him get away with it.


1.  “False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots,” New York Times, 13 Aug 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/health/policy/14panel.html?scp=1&sq=False%20Death%20Panel%20Rumor&st=cse


Doug Reich said...

Excellent post. Your identification of the "death panel" now being used as a straw man is dead on and adds a ton of clarity to this issue. This is a classic leftist tactic - when those that think in principle extrapolate the logic of their plans they can use this to smear the principled thinker as an "extremist" or "fear monger".

I also liked your explanation of how they get away with fascism, i.e., claiming they don't want to takeover an industry "just tell it what to charge, who to hire, etc." This is exactly why they can get away with fascism but not outright socialism. Socialism would require them to take a principled stand and explain a takeover. Using fascist tactics (allowing nominal private property but calling the shots) allows them this "veil of obscurity" and to more easily get away with the contradiction.

Thanks again for an enlightening post.

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comment, Doug. That is a very perceptive point you make that I had not explicitly named: that the fascist element (i.e. maintaining the pretense of private ownership) helps them get away with it.

There are so many examples of this doublespeak, I'll have to devote a post to it sometime soon.