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Profile: James Towey

James Towey was a participant or observer in the following events:

The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” [Veterans Administration, 1997 pdf file; Wall Street Journal, 8/18/2009; Fox News, 8/23/2009]
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. [Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009] Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” [Huffington Post, 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009]
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Chris Wallace, Media Matters, National Review, James Towey, Fox News, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Tammy Duckworth, Richard Allen Smith, Rush Limbaugh, US Veterans Administration, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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