The always-reliable NY Times probes deeply into the question of why these death panel rumors swirl around Obama, helpfully likening them to the rumors about Obama being a Muslim or not an American:
WASHINGTON — The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.
And in the course of talking about runaway costs and ways to reduce them, Obama actually advocated end-of-life panels issuing voluntary guidelines with Timesman David Leonhardt, as reported in the Times; by way of introduction, Obama had been discussing the story of his grandmother, who was terminally ill with cancer when she had an expensive hip replacement procedure so that she would not be bed-ridden for the last three to nine months of her life:
THE PRESIDENT: So that’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that’s also a huge driver of cost, right?
I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.
LEONHARDT: So how do you — how do we deal with it?
So as of April 2009 Obama himself expected the final legislation to include some sort of group (but NOT a "death panel"!) that would produce voluntary guidelines for end of life care with an eye towards saving money.
And now Obama is plagued by scurrilous rumors that his legislation will include groups that issue guidelines for end of life care with the goal of saving money. Fortunately, the Times has looked everywhere but their own candidate and their own website and firmly concluded that the rumors are false.
[BELATED PILING ON: In their own coverage of the Obama interview Peter Baker of the Times wrote this on May 1:
Some conservatives have cited Mr. Obama’s story to make the case that his plan to expand access to health care and reduce costs ultimately will result in rationing, of the kind that might have denied his grandmother the surgery unless she paid the bill on her own.
Evidently, once Sarah Palin spoke the Times forgot their own interview and their own reporting].
HOW VOLUNTARY? And how voluntary will these imagined guidelines be? Doctors that are currently free to prescribe painkillers volunteer not to, to avoid hassles from the DEA. Mightn't doctors prefer to follow the "voluntary" end-of-life guidelines rather than risk Federal examination of their taxes, expenses, hiring decisions, and payroll? That would depend in large part on how aggressively the government chose to push the "voluntary" guidelines.
Based on the current public reaction to these "rumors" I would imagine that the Feds will steer clear of this, for now anyway.
BY WAY OF CONTRAST: The Wall Street Journal editors think the death panel talk is "over the top" but opines that seniors have a point:
Elderly Americans are turning out in droves to fight ObamaCare, and President Obama is arguing back that they have nothing to worry about. Allow us to referee. While claims about euthanasia and "death panels" are over the top, senior fears have exposed a fundamental truth about what Mr. Obama is proposing: Namely, once health care is nationalized, or mostly nationalized, rationing care is inevitable, and those who have lived the longest will find their care the most restricted.
They do tackle Obama's gramdmother:
Before he got defensive, Mr. Obama was open about this political calculation. He often invokes the experience of his own grandmother, musing whether it was wise for her to receive a hip replacement after a terminal cancer diagnosis. In an April interview with the New York Times, he wondered whether this represented a "sustainable model" for society. He seems to believe these medical issues are all justifiably political questions that government or some panel of philosopher kings can and should decide. No wonder so many seniors rebel at such judgments that they know they could do little to influence, much less change.
Hmm, he "seems to believe these medical issues are all justifiably political questions that government or some panel of philosopher kings can and should decide"? He did believe some independent (and presumably wise) panel should provide guidance on end-of-life care.