If you are 65 or older, love someone who's 65 or older, or hope to live to be someone 65 or older, take heart:
Your government does not want to hasten your leap into the eternal embrace of a loving God. There is no health care reform plan to kill old people.
You may think otherwise if you listen to conservative talk shows, and how many times have I warned you that nothing will age you faster?
It all started with Betsy McCaughey, New York's former lieutenant governor and a longtime critic of health care reform. Her new job is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, which makes her sound like someone who cares about patients' rights.
On July 16, McCaughey had an on-air chat with Fred Thompson, a fellow Republican known for what he used to be: U.S. senator, presidential candidate, star of "Law & Order." He co-hosts "The Fred Thompson Show" with his wife, Jeri, and how embarrassed will he be when he realizes he left her name out of the title?
McCaughey assured Thompson on his radio show that she had just read the entire health care reform bill and that it is a "vicious assault on elderly people and the boomer generation."
Well, that got 66-year-old Thompson chuckling. Emboldened by his enthusiasm, McCaughey continued:
"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."
The goal, she said, is to teach the elderly how to "decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care ... all to do what's in society's best interest or in your family's best interest and cut your life short."
Think how scary this would be if it were true .
The section in question isn't a how-to manual for ending a life. It's meant to help prepare for end-of-life care, which is a good idea for adults at any age.
"This is about respecting a patient's wishes," said Jon Keyserling, vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
"The best way to avoid this is for the patient to express his or her wishes in conversations with families and then memorialize them on paper. Patients can change their minds at any time. This is an advance directive, not etched in stone."
The bipartisan effort's relevant section would require Medicare to cover the cost of voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions with a medical professional. The doctor would not be forced to bring it up, nor would the patient. In fact, an earlier version from Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson was rejected because it would have required an end-of-life consultation before a patient qualified for Medicare.
These are the facts, but they muddied McCaughey's efforts to scare old people. So she ignored them. Rush Limbaugh added his bargain-basement analysis, and soon my inbox filled with frightened calls and letters from elderly people insisting that Democrats want to kill them.
McCaughey's claims drew the attention of PolitiFact, the nonpartisan Web site sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly that won a Pulitzer Prize for its relentless examination of campaign claims during last year's presidential race.
PolitiFact gave McCaughey its worst rating: Pants on Fire.
AARP spokesman Jim Dau told PolitiFact that McCaughey's comments are "not just wrong; they are cruel. We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If someone wants to take every lifesaving measure, that's their call. Others will decide it's not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that's their decision, too."
So, to reiterate: Congress does not want to kill old people.
But conservative talk shows will do their best to age you.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House: "Life Happens" and "... and His Lovely Wife." To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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