ABC's George Stephanopoulos Pleads With McCain to Denounce Death Panel Claims

During an interview with John McCain on Sunday's This Week, George Stephanopoulos practically begged with the Arizona senator to repudiate "death panel" claims by former Governor Sarah Palin. Speaking of the health care bill, Stephanopoulos attacked euthanasia worries and lobbied, "[Obama] called that an extraordinary lie. And he is right about that, isn't he?"

The former top Clinton aide turned journalist reworked the same query four more times. After McCain referred to the fact that a Senate panel dropped a provision on end-of-life counseling, Stephanopoulos interrupted, "I don't think that's correct, Senator. The bill, all it said was that if a patient wanted to have a Medicare consultation about end of life issues, they could have it, at their request. And the doctor would get reimbursed for it. No panel."

The back and forth continued. McCain cited rationing and the This Week host retorted, "But that's not a death panel." Stephanopoulos was not to be deterred by this argument from the senator: "So what does that lead to? Doesn't that lead to a possibility, at least opens the door to a possibility of rationing and decisions made, such are made in other countries?" The ABC anchor complained, "Boy, every, single independent group that looked at it said it just wasn't true."

Politico reported in January that Stephanopoulos has daily phone conversations with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Stephanopoulos later denied this, but he certainly seemed to be echoing the White House on Sunday.

In an op-ed in the August 19 Washington Times, Robert W. Painter argued that, at the local level, having doctors counsel patients on end-of-life does lead to rationing. Painter, an attorney, cited Texas as an example:

The truth is, for many states, Mrs. Palin's assessment likely is dead-on, except the "death panels" would be hospital-run, not government-run. Consider Texas. The Texas Advance Directives Act of 1999 became law with support from a broad ideological spectrum, but one of its unintended consequences has been astounding. When a patient or family wants health care to continue but the attending physician does not, the Texas law allows a hospital committee to have the final say under the amorphous concept of "medical futility."

Texas law only requires the hospital to provide the patient and family with 48 hours' notice before a hospital "ethics" committee meets and makes a decision on terminating life support. There are few due-process safeguards in the law to protect patients during this committee proceeding.

Once the hospital ethics committee decides that further care is medically futile, the family is given just 10 days to find a facility that will accept the patient, or the hospital and doctors can end curative care with impunity. Virginia law is similar but gives the family 14 days.

Furthermore, if the statute is followed, the hospital and others involved are cloaked with complete criminal, civil and licensing immunity. In other words, even if the hospital's decision to pull life support was incorrect, it is immune from lawsuit or prosecution. All this sounds quite like a "death panel" to me. Under Texas law, the hospitals are not just allowed to try to persuade a family to "pull the plug" but are allowed to take the action themselves and end all curative care if the family disagrees.
A partial transcript of the August 23 This Week, which aired at 10:10am, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The President also says that the debate has been infected by falsehoods. And probably the most notorious one is the one made by your former running mate, Sarah Palin, who said that his bill would encourage death panels that would encourage euthanasia [sic]. He called that an extraordinary lie. And he is right about that, isn't he?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I think that what we're talking about here, is are we going to have groups that actually advise people, as these decisions are made later in life?

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not in the bill.

MCCAIN: But, it's been taken out. But, the way that it was written made it a little bit ambiguous. And another thing-

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's correct, Senator. The bill, all it said was that if a patient wanted to have a Medicare consultation about end of life issues, they could have it, at their request. And the doctor would get reimbursed for it. No panel.

MCCAIN: But there was a provision in the bill that talks about a board that would decide the most effective measures to provide health care for people. Okay? Now, we had amendments. We Republicans have said that in no way would that affect the decisions that the patients would made and their families. That was rejected by the Democrats and the health committee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's not a death panel.

MCCAIN: So, what does it- so what does that lead to? Doesn't that lead to a possibility, at least opens the door to a possibility of rationing and decisions made, such are made in other countries?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, every, single independent group that looked at it said it just wasn't true.

MCCAIN: Well, then why did the Democrats turn down our amendments that clarified that none of the decisions that would be made by this board would in any way affect the depriving of needed treatments for patients? I don't know why they did that then.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you think Sarah Palin was right?

MCCAIN: Look, I don't think they were, "death panels." Don't get me wrong. I don't think that. But on the best treatment procedures part of the bill, they- it does open it up to decisions being made as far- that should be left - those choices left to the patient and the individual. That's what I think is pretty clear, which was a different section of the bill.

-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center.