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Profile: Senate Commerce Committee

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Slate reporter and columnist Christopher Beam coins a new term, “deathers,” to label conservatives who are spreading the debunked rumors that President Barack Obama’s health care proposals would kill old people (see July 16, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Beam publishes his article on the same day that Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claims that under Obama’s reforms, seniors would be “put to death” (see July 28, 2009), and that Obama holds a “town hall” meeting where he debunks this and other rumors surrounding his proposals (see July 28, 2009). The claim apparently originated with lobbyist and lawyer Betsy McCaughey (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), who used similarly questionable claims to derail the 1994 reform proposals by the Clinton administration (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Others have made similar assertions; Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) recently warned that Obama’s reform proposals would “kill people” (see July 10, 2009), and conservative commentator and author Charlotte Allen says: “Obama’s not going to say, ‘Let’s kill them.’ But he seems to be perfectly comfortable with the idea that a lot more old people are going to die a lot sooner.”
End-of-Life Consultations - Beam shows that the language of the bill, as it stands in Congress at this time, provides for “end-of-life consultations” between patients and doctors, if the patients wish them. In those consultations, doctors would explain what kind of services are available to those patients—palliative care and hospices, in-home care, more intensive treatments in a hospital, etc.—but would not tell patients that they had to restrict themselves to less intensive treatments that would shorten their lives. Some “deathers” have also insisted that the bill provides for the withholding of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration.” McCaughey is a vocal proponent of this claim. However, such a choice would have to be made by the patient and/or the family, specifically not a doctor.
Shared Decision-Making - Opponents of health care reform such as McCaughey claim that the House bill would “coerce” seniors into taking part in a program that forces them into making decisions about “trade-offs among treatment options,” or takes the final decision-making power away from them and places it in the hands of doctors or government officials. In reality, the bill would provide an informational tool for patients and families to make informed decisions. No coercion could legally be applied.
Obama Staffers Cause Concern - Some of Obama’s staffers have said and written things that cause consternation among reform opponents (see July 23-24, 2009). One of Obama’s senior health care advisers, Ezekiel Emanuel, who serves as health policy adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wrote in 2008 that doctors too often interpret the Hippocratic oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others,” leading some to wonder if Emanuel would put cost concerns over patients’ needs; others have gone farther, comparing Emanuel to Nazi doctors and of advocating “eugenics.” In 1977, Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, joined two other authors in writing about possible methods of population control, including a speculative bit about sterilizing people by introducing chemicals into the water supply. (ABC News later reports that the controversial passage was from a textbook in which various methods of population control were considered and rejected. Holdren recently released a statement saying that population control is not the government’s job; his statements on the matter passed muster in the Senate Commerce Committee, whose Republican members joined Democrats in unanimously approving his nomination as the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.) And some worry that the proposed Independent Medicare Advisory Council, which would oversee cost containment for Medicare, would be staffed, in Allen’s words, with “a certain class of secularized intellectuals” who might put cost concerns over quality of life. [Slate, 7/28/2009; ABC News, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: John Holdren, Charlotte Allen, Barack Obama, Christopher Beam, Ezekiel Emanuel, Senate Commerce Committee, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Medicare, Virginia Foxx, Paul Broun

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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