You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Schiavo Saga and "Death Panels"

At HuffPo today, Sam Stein explores an irony that I've also been thinking about: many of the very conservatives who are ventilating claims that health care reform will interject the federal government into end-of-life decisions--with or without "death panels"--were hell-bent on Congress dictating an end-of-life decision in the infamous Terri Schiavo case in 2005:

Some of the same conservative figures taking potshots at Democrats for wanting to fund voluntary discussions about end-of-life decisions between doctors and their patients were leading the charge four years ago to contravene the decision by Schiavo's husband and guardian to remove the feeding tubes from his wife after she had spent 15 years in a vegetative state.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who this week declared that Obama was trying to set up a situation where the government would decide whether to pull the plug on grandma, missed the vote to give the government control over Schiavo's fate. But he told reporters that he backed the measure.

"I support the effort to protect Terri Schiavo," he said. "It's the first case of its kind, a chance to choose life over death. I gave the option to life."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has also been highly critical of Obama's health care agenda, told constituents in an online forum that he supported the government's intervention into Schiavo's life.

This isn't just an amusing example of hypocrisy, however. It's worth noting that both the demand for federal intervention in the Schiavo case, and the "death panel" smear, have largely emanated from the Right-to-Life movement (the latter via their most prominent spokesperson, Sarah Palin), which routinely suggests that legalized abortion will eventually lead to government-sponsored euthanasia. Indeed, though it hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the "death panel" talk, health reform opponents have often claimed (without any real evidence) that reform is intended to promote publicly-financed abortions as well as euthanasia.

The abortion-euthanasia connection matters because the people promoting the "death panel" meme are not, in fact, opposed to government intervention in end-of-life decisions, any more than they are opposed to government intervention in a woman's decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term. They simply want the intervention to follow their own absolutist views about human life.

And just as right-to-life activists are forever trying to manufacture evidence that "liberals" in government are plotting to encourage, not simply permit, abortions, they are now manufacturing evidence that those same liberals are plotting to encourage or actually require euthanasia. It's part and parcel of a political strategy aimed at denying that government can be neutral on "life," and that decisions about "life" can be consigned to private decision-making.

So next time you hear a conservative talk about "death panels," you might want to ask about Terri Schiavo, not as a "gotcha," but to expose the highly interventionist thinking that motivates many of those who pose a defenders of individual and family rights against Big Government.