The Unfortunate Success of Sarah Palin's "Death Panel" Lie.

A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows support for the Affordable Care Act building, but it also shows some other interesting things, including this:

On the other hand, large shares of seniors mistakenly believe the law includes provisions that cut some previously universal Medicare benefits and creates “death panels.” Half of seniors (50%) say the law will cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare, and more than a third (36%) incorrectly believe the law will “allow a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare.”

Keep in mind that when it came to the "death panels," the press pretty much did its job. Not perfectly, by any means, but most of the time, when it was mentioned, reporters pointed out that the claim was, in fact, false. But let's also remember that in an act of cowardice, Democrats knuckled under and eliminated the provision that spawned the "death panel" lie, which would have reimbursed Medicare providers for discussing end-of-life options with their patients. They wouldn't have gotten paid much, but at least it would have made those discussions a bit more likely, and therefore made it more likely people would plan for the end of their lives.

This matters. As national treasure Atul Gawande discusses in his latest piece in The New Yorker about end-of-life care, surprisingly, research has shown that people with some conditions who go to hospice actually live longer than those who don't: "The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer." And Gawande reports the remarkable results of one study:

Two-thirds of the terminal-cancer patients in the Coping with Cancer study reported having had no discussion with their doctors about their goals for end-of-life care, despite being, on average, just four months from death. But the third who did were far less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation or be put on a ventilator or end up in an intensive-care unit. Two-thirds enrolled in hospice. These patients suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. Moreover, six months after the patients died their family members were much less likely to experience persistent major depression. In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation, and to spare their family anguish.

Most Americans may not have been snookered by Sarah Palin's "death panel" lie (and we should give credit to its originator, the infinitely despicable Betsy McCaughey; Palin gave it its snappy moniker). But she nevertheless won the battle, because the provision was removed. It's difficult to say just how many fewer patients talked to their doctors, planned for their deaths, and saved themselves and their families so much suffering as a result. But every family that goes through the anguish of watching their loved one suffer, not knowing what choices to make on their behalf, drawing out everyone's misery, can give a great big thanks to the former governor of Alaska.

-- Paul Waldman

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