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Death Panels

“Death panels” was a political term which falsely referred to the supposed dangers posed by the Affordable Care Act.

Some opponents of the law, better known as Obamacare, argued that government-run healthcare could lead to a kind of de-facto euthanasia, if preferential treatment was given to certain tiers of society.

Origin of “Death Panels”

The term “death panels” was coined by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

In a Facebook post on August 7, 2009, Palin wrote.

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. 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.

Conservative newspapers and commentators quickly agreed with Palin’s claims. Rush Limbaugh said that Palin was “dead right,” and others followed suit. Members of the Tea Party were also quick to get on board with claims about the death panels. And more centrist Republicans also agreed.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told a crowd of his supporters, “We should not have a government program that determines you’re gonna pull the plug on Grandma.”

Politifact later named Palin’s “death panels” statement the “lie of the year” for 2009. Politifact also pointed out the Palin was not the first conservative to make dramatic claims about Obamacare and vulnerable members of society.

Earlier in 2009, a conservative commentator and former lieutenant governor of New York named Betsy McCaughey issued some dire warnings about Obamacare. McCaughey said that “Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” she said on a radio show.

McCaughey was wrong – Obamacare did not require seniors to attend counseling. She may have been referring to a provision in which Medicare would pay for doctors’ appointments for patients who wanted to set up their living wills and other end-of-life issues. However, the rumor continued to spread, and it took years for it to die down. As late as 2016, the Washington Post reported that 29 percent of Americans believed that death panels would ration healthcare resources.

Nearly a decade later, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) also took to social media to talk about death panels. Ocasio Cortez wrote on Twitter that private insurance companies effectively had their own death panels:

Actually, we have for-profit “death panels” now: they are companies and boards saying you’re on your own because they won’t cover a critical procedure or medicine. Maybe if the GOP stopped hiding behind this “socialist” rock they love to throw, they’d actually engage on-issue for once.

Use of “Death Panels” in a sentence

  • The term “death panels” gained infamy during the healthcare reform debate, as opponents used it to fuel fears that the proposed legislation would lead to rationing of healthcare and bureaucrats deciding who would receive life-saving treatments.
  • Critics argue that the dissemination of the “death panels” myth significantly distorted public discussion, stoking unwarranted fears and misrepresenting the actual provisions of the healthcare reform.
  • The persistence of the “death panels” narrative in political discourse highlights the challenge of combating misinformation, especially when emotionally-charged terminology is employed to sway public opinion on crucial policy matters.