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Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Shame on You, Mr. Hentoff

[digg-reddit-me]Mr. Hentoff,

I have been following you for years – ever since my father suggested I read your column because you were honest and independent-minded and liberal. I have admired your steadfast positions, including on abortion and right to life issues. But your last column was truly shameful.

Given your career and the reputation you have built and maintained, you should be embarrassed to have such poorly sourced journalism attributed to your name. It reads like something an overeager Cato intern might have thrown together – with the sloppy reference to Pelosi condemning the “furor” as “un-American” and the casual defamation of Ezekial Emanuel. It’s hard to tell if you made these points out of laziness – not taking the time to investigate the standard right wing talking points on health care – or if you chose to use your stature to lie.

If you had chosen to read the op-ed published by Speaker Pelosi and Representative Steny Hoyer (conveniently linked to here)¬†you would have noticed that they never called the protestors or the furor “un-American” as many right wingers have claimed. Instead, they made a statement which you doubtless agree with:

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.

Which means your statement – misidentifying the co-author of the piece as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – calling them “blind to truly participatory democracy” began with a faulty premise.

Regarding your next point: If you had chosen to read the article you quote by Dr. Ezekial Emanuel (among others) instead of simply quoting the Washington Times editorial quoting the article – or if you had even done some sort of search beyond that single right wing editorial – you would have found that Dr. Emanual was not describing how he believes medical resources should be allocated – but considering what should be done in times or situations of extreme scarcity, such as during a pandemic or with extremely scarce resources such as organs to be donated. The article describes 8 systems for distributing extremely scare resources/services – and recommends 6 of them be incorporated into any decision-making process. The quote you push here is cribbed from the description of one system. It is a blatant falsehood to claim it represents Dr. Emanuel’s overall thought on the subject. And I know you are an old man, but would you seriously put forward the moral proposition that if your kidney is failing – and so is a 12-year old girl’s – you should get priority to that kidney?

To state that this quote means that Dr. Emanuel is in favor of medical rationing is a lie. To state that it means Dr. Emanuel is in favor of euthanasia is a lie. (In fact, one of the articles you link to clearly states that Dr. Emanual is and has been opposed to euthanasia.). To  insinuate that the plans currently under consideration are pushing such rationing or euthanasia or death panels is finally a lie too far.

You clearly know little about the bills under consideration – as you conflate the subsidies for voluntary end of life counseling and the Independent Medicare Advisory Board – as Sarah Palin in her ignorance did – into a “life-decider” panel that decides whether you merit “government-controlled funds to keep you alive.” You also make this ominous point:

The members of that ultimate federal board will themselves not have examined or seen the patient in question.

Of course, it is unclear what panel it is you are trying to describe here. As mentioned above, it seems a conflation of one panel in the proposed legislation – and a provision to subsidize end of life counseling – with both fearfully conflated and confused into one panel that has a quite different purpose. The closest thing to what you’re describing in the bill would be the Independent Medicare Advisory Board – which is an amended version of the current MedPAC which sets Medicare reimbursement rates. It would be checked by Congress and the President – either of whom would be able to reject any untoward recommendations by the board. In addition, either the IMAC or another advisory board would collect and distribute research on “best practices” in medicine – comparing the comparative effectiveness of different treatments for the same or similar diseases.

Of course, none of these boards would be making decision about individual patients – as you claim. But clearly, you didn’t take the time to look into any of this.

Shame on you, Nat Hentoff. This was a poor piece of journalism that only succeeds in spreading lies about health reform even further.

If you value your journalistic integrity, you should issue a retraction and apologize to Dr. Emanuel – or double down and explain what primary sources you have for your rather frightening conclusions. Until then, your opinion must clearly be dismissed as the shoddy piece of right wing talking points that it has become.

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