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I’ve gone on enough about the nuttery (and yes, racism) of the Birthers who are besieging the last remnants of sanity in the Republican Party. It’s only fitting, therefore, that the wackiness continue with the rise of Deathers, who insist that President Obama and the Democrats’ plans for health insurance reform amount to forced euthanasia of old people. No less an esteemed GOP scion as Sarah Palin herself gave this fledgling meme life when she proclaimed on her facebook page,

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

In other words, Sarah Palin actually believes that The Government is going to deny health care to elderly people or those with disabilities, according to some twisted eugenics program designed to cull the weak and preserve the profit margins. Doesn’t this sound more like the behavior that the insurance companies already engage in? Not as an explicit goal, but simply as a natural byproduct of the policies they follow – including denial of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and refusing payment for services retroactively.

This idea that the Democrats are out to kill your grandma or forcibly abort your baby is pure scare-mongering 101, trying to rise the pro-life base and also drive a further wedge between the Democrats and the senior citizen voting bloc (who are very protective of their Medicare coverage, a fact that the Democrats have exploited in their own campaigns against Republicans before). In an extensive article at Slate, Christopher Beam gave these prophets of doom their name – the Deathers:

First came the “birthers.” Now, as President Obama makes a final push for health care reform, we have the deathers.

Many senior citizens are concerned that health care reform would mean cuts to Medicare. That much was clear at a town-hall meeting hosted Tuesday by the American Association of Retired Persons at which Obama fielded questions from seniors who don’t want to give up their benefits.

But one question stood out. It addressed what the host from the AARP called the “infamous” Page 425 of the House health care bill. (Read the bill here.) “I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone that’s Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die,” said Mary from North Carolina. “This bothers me greatly, and I’d like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill.” The host elaborated: “As I read the bill, it’s saying that Medicare will, for the first time, cover consultation about end-of-life care, and that they will not pay for such a consultation more than once every five years. This is being read as saying every five years you’ll be told how you can die.”

[…] Deathers point to several parts of the House bill as evidence that health care reform means letting old people die. Most prominent is the end-of-life consultation provision mentioned above. An article on World Net Daily argues that the proposal “specifically calls for the consultation to recommend ‘palliative care and hospice’ for seniors in their mandatory counseling sessions.” In fact, the bill says the meeting must include “an explanation by the practitioner of the end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice”-not a recommendation of it. (Emphasis added.)

[…] Another seemingly scary provision is one that permits “the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration”-or, more accurately, the withholding of it. [Betsy McCaughey] told me that the provision is a disturbing example of the government making decisions for the patient. But the bill specifically says that an order to withhold, say, an IV drip, must be one that “effectively communicates the individual’s preferences regarding life sustaining treatment, including an indication of the treatment and care desired by the individual.” In other words, a doctor can’t make you do it.

Yet another bugaboo is “shared decision-making.” The House bill would establish a program that “provide[s] patients with information about trade-offs among treatment options, and facilitates the incorporation of patient preferences and values into the medical plan.” The legislation makes clear that this is an educational tool to help patients make informed decisions about whether a treatment is likely to help. To McCaughey, the decision-making is hardly shared. “This is coercion,” she said.

As Beam points out, “scaring Grandma is irresistable” and so this is n’t something that we should be surprised about – but it’s still a prime example of how cynical the politics over health reform are. Living in Madison, I have become very fond of liberal radio hosts like Rachel Maddow who are pushing back aggressively on these memes, including deserved mockery to illustrate just how insane these people really are:

this time, the reason they say changing the health care system is so scary is because – you guessed it – health care reform is really a secret plot to kill old people and to try to make people have more abortions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They won’t pay for my surgery. What are we going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, honey, you can’t live this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health care plan and spending tax dollars on abortions. They won’t pay for my surgery but we’re forced to pay for abortions.

NARRATOR: Our greatest generation denied care. Our future generation denied life. Call your senator. Stop the government takeover of health care.

Family Research Council Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You got that? The real agenda lurking behind health care reform is a secret plot to kill old people and to promote abortion. That ad was just released by the conservative group the Family Research Council.

Now, you know about the conspiracy theory that the president secretly isn’t really the president because he’s secretly foreign. Those conspiracists are called birthers, right? Well, Christopher Beam at Slate.com has christened the health care-reform-as-a-secret-plot-to-kill- old-people conspiracists as the “deathers,” which is sort of brilliant.

Unfortunately, the disinformation campaign is working, with ordinary Republican voters falling for these outlandish claims. The irony is that the proposed reform will actually address many of their fears and give them more power, not less, over their own health and the health of their loved ones.

Also, there’s something supremely disquieting about Palin dragging her child into politics in this way. For someone who makes a lot of (righteous) noise about her daughters being dragged into the public eye by others, using her son’s disability as a political prop seems pretty craven. I thought the far-left obsession about her pregnancy and whatnot was obscene, too, and don’t really see any difference between that and her invoking her baby now – especially since I personally think Palin is a very intelligent woman who surely knows that the health insurance reform proposed by Obama and the Democrats has nothing of the sort as she claims. If she was really just a fool, then it would be excusable, in a sense.

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