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The Death Panels Are Real

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As living, breathing human beings, we're pretty averse to death. In fact, just last weekend on a shopping trip, I overheard a father tell his son, "Robbie, you've got to stop talking about dying." Of course, I heard that out of context, but I'm guessing the kid said something about death out of curiosity as children are wont to do. The message was loud and clear: morbid topics are not socially acceptable.

In light of that, it's little wonder that people are so up in arms over the notion of government death panels. While they don't exist, the mere idea that some objective third party would make decisions about who lives and who dies is enough to scare most people, and that fear turns quite readily into anger as soon as people are able to put a face on it, no matter how unwarranted that might be. The right understands this psychology and uses it effectively to win political support. Progressives need to follow suit. The difference? Conservatives are referring to death panels that don't exist and will not be created by health reform. Progressives could be--but currently aren't--referring to death panels that actually do exist and that will remain active unless we pass health reform.

What am I talking about? Death panels? You mean, they're real?! Yep. They're not a formal body, but all throughout Congress there are men and women who are making decisions right now--decisions to oppose meaningful health reform--that will mean putting some people to death. The connection is not as tenuous as it may seem. There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that a lack of health insurance causes foregone care, more severe morbidity, and increased mortality. It's just that simple. Of course, if you need more evidence, Jacob Weisberg explains how the GOP's position on everything from the estate tax to environmental legislation and from stem cell research to privatizing social security threatens the lives of America's seniors.

When Sen. Grassley or Sen. Enzi delivers an anti-reform message, what they are really doing--if their message succeeds in stopping reform--is sentencing thousands of people a year to a premature death. That's right. Sen. Grassley is the ranking member of the Early Grave Commission. You don't hear them talking about that, though, do you? Of course not. People would be outraged. It's much better for them to draw attention away from themselves and direct it towards the opposition by leveling false accusations. As they say, "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Opponents of reform would much rather have you believe that someone wants to "pull the plug on Grandma" than realize that they, themselves, already sit on the real death panel.


Read or Subscribe to Wright on Health to find out How We Died in 2006, how Medicare Enrollees Are Uniting To Keep Government's Hands Off Their Medicare, and two companion pieces explaining Just How Insulated We Are From Health Care Costs and Why Market-Based Solutions To Fix Health Care Won't Work. And, hey, while you're at it, why don't you become my fan on HuffPo?
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Brad Wright is a doctoral student in health policy and management at the University of North Carolina.

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