Caskets at a funeral.
Caskets at a funeral. - 
Listen To The Story


Kai Ryssdal: You know all those town hall meetings. Where people are protesting death panels, and other things they've heard are going to be included in the health-care overhaul? Turns out all the yelling is having a real effect on the debate and on the policy, too. Today the Senate Finance Committee decided end of life care is so politically touchy that it can't even be talked about, let alone be included in the final bill. Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: A lot of the heat at the town hall meetings focused on a provision in the house's health-care bill. It would encourage doctors to talk with their patients about the care they want at the end of their lives.

For example, do they want to be put on life support, the kind of thing living wills spell out. But that got blown up into supposed "death panels" -- first in an Op-Ed in the New York Post, later in comments in comments by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

ROBERT Berenson: The way it's been distorted into death panels, government bureaucrats deciding who should live or die, is a complete fabrication.

Robert Berenson is a fellow at the Urban Institute. More than a quarter of all Medicare spending happens in the last year of patients' lives, much of it as they're dying. And Berenson says the government could save billions of dollars by reducing care that patients may not even want.

Berenson: The savings would have nothing to do with anybody making a decision to deny some care that patients and their families want, but rather would be associated with honoring patients' own wishes.

Conversations about end-of-life care are often difficult for doctors to have, says Peter Pronovost at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He says the goal should be more dialogue between doctors and patients, not less.

PETER Pronovost: We would like patients and their families to make the wisest decisions. There's information that has to inform that decision. And far too often, physicians don't provide it.

After a week where the political discourse was dominated by "death panels," Pronovost says that goal seems more remote than ever.

I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.