ABC Decries ‘Shouting’ and ‘Screaming’ in One-sided Story on End-of-life Care

ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday presented an extremely one-sided take on the controversial end-of-life provisions in the health care bill, decrying all the "screaming" and "shouting" at town hall meetings. Reporter Kate Snow featured no Republican voices (other than of people yelling) in the segment and instead focused on combating the "incorrect claims" about the legislation.

The network correspondent began by proclaiming, "We wanted to better understand all the shouting." She then went on to describe a provision in the House health care bill that would reimburse doctors for speaking to patients every five years about end-of-life decisions. Despite mentioning at the end of the segment that "there are clearly very strongly held views on the other side," Snow failed to highlight GOP or conservative voices who could have explained why some oppose the provision.

An online version of the article on ABCNews.com featured Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter protesting, "You see when discussion about whether or not the continuation of one's life has a nexus with the U.S. treasury saving money, that's a very dangerous recipe for those who can often time be the most vulnerable amongst us." McCotter did not appear in Snow’s GMA piece. Instead, she briefly summarized the conservative argument.

Snow highlighted President Obama’s defense of the plan, spinning, "The President does say millions could be saved if Americans simply talked more about what they want in the final months of life." She then went on to discuss how such a provison had been implemented in La Crosse, Wisconsin, pointing out that in Gundersen Lutheran Hospital, staffers meet with patients in their 50s and discuss medical care for their later years.

Citing one woman who went through the process with her mother, Snow cheered, "For Ann and others in La Crosse the idea of allowing the government to have these conversations is not scary at all."

It’s important to remember that it was on ABC’s air waves, during a June 24, 2009 prime time special on health care, that Barack Obama talked to a woman about her 105-year-old mother. Jane Sturm recounted the struggle to get a pacemaker for her mom:

JANE STURM: She's 105 now, over 105. But at 100, the doctor had said to her, 'I can't do anything more unless you have a pacemaker." I said, go for it, she said go for it. But the arrhythmia specialist said, 'No, it's too old." Her doctor said, 'I'm going to make an appointment, because a picture is worth a thousand words," and when the other arrhythmia specialist saw her, saw her joy of life and so on, he said, 'I'm going forward." So that was over five years ago. My question to you is, outside the medical criteria for prolonging life for somebody who is elderly, is there any consideration that can be given for a certain spirit, a certain joy of living, oh, - quality of life, or is it just a medical cutoff at a certain age?

After going back and forth with the President on the subject, Obama made his now famous suggestion that, perhaps, a painkiller is sometimes preferable to surgery:

BARACK OBAMA: But what we can do is make sure that at least some of the waste that exists in the system, that's not making anybody's mom better, that is loading up on additional tests or additional drugs that the evidence shows is not necessarily gonna improve care. That at least we can let doctors know and your mom know, that, you know what, maybe this isn't gonna help. Maybe you're better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.

So, rather than condescendingly dismissing fears over end-of-life provisions, maybe ABC should provide more balanced coverage on the subject.  

A transcript of the August 10 segment, which aired at 7:14am EDT, follows:

7am tease

ROBIN ROBERTS: The screaming fight over health care. New claims the reforms include a so-called death panel with the government telling you when to die. What’s really going on?

7:14

CHRIS CUOMO: President Obama is back on the hunt for health care reform. He'll be in New Hampshire this week and hoping scenes like these recent town hall meetings don't follow. The most divisive issue is care given in the final year of life. Americans typically spend a third of their total medical costs in that last year alone. Shocking, also angering. Kate Snow is following this for us.

ABC GRAPHIC: Health Care Brawl: The "End of Life" Debate

KATE SNOW: Good morning again, Chris. And Governor Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, has now weighed in on this. It is a small piece of health care reform but it has prompted vitriolic debate. We wanted to better understand all the shouting, so went to La Crosse, Wisconsin, the cheapest place it die in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How dare you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I want to know if it's coming out of my paycheck! Yes or no?

SECOND UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just say no! Just say no!

SNOW: It's one of the most common topics at all those town hall meetings.

THIRD UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They're going to give us classes on euthanasia.

FOURTH UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Adolf Hitler issued six million end of life orders.

SNOW: On YouTube and e-mail chains, on talk radio, inflammatory, often incorrect claims about one provision in some of the health care reform legislation, the proposal would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin asserted that her parents and her baby with down syndrome would have to stand in front of Obama's death panel. Conservative critics are calling it a path toward government sponsored euthanasia. President Obama said on Saturday, the criticism is misleading Americans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me start by dispelling the outlandish rumors that reform will promote euthanasia. That's simply not t true.

SNOW: The President does say millions could be saved if Americans simply talked more about what they want in the final months of life. The kind of dialogue that's already happening regularly in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1991, Gundersen Lutheran Hospital started a program that's now spread city wide. Hospital staff meet with patients starting around 55 or 60 years-old to help them develop a plan for their later years. It’s what Ann's mother m Margaret did.

ANN KOTTNOUR: And by the time we completed it, her heal had started to fail more.

SNOW: When an emergency landed Margaret in the nursing home, her daughter knew even though her mom has dementia that she wanted to die in her home own. Some in La Crosse ask for aggressive life-saving measures, but most patients do end up asking for limitations on their care in the final months.

BUD HAMMES, PHD (Gundersen Lutheran Hospital): It's really a shared decision and everyone is on the same page. People don't want to die hooked up to machines.

SNOW: And that is where the cost savings comes in. In La Crosse, medical spending in the final year of life averages $18,000. Compare that to the national average, $25,000. Ann says it's never been about saving money, but about respecting her mom's wishes.

KOTTNOUR: Our mother has given to us all of our lives and been there for us. And so I feel that it's our turn to give some back. And be able to follow through with her wishes.

SNOW: For Ann and others in La Crosse the idea of allowing the government to have these conversations is not scary at all. But there are clearly very strongly held views on the other side. Proponents of this measure hope that Congress is going to be able to kind of clarify the provision, work this out over the August recess and come back at it.

CUOMO: What is the specific on the other side? What is it Republicans-

SNOW: So, on the Republican side what a lot of Republicans are saying is that the minute you tie government cost saving to very sensitive decisions about the end of life, it's a slippery slope and they fear that you end up sort of driving patients toward less care. That's the concern. But, there is one suggested alternative right now floating around in one of the House committees that changes the language somewhat and there could be a compromise.

CUOMO: Still a lot of space between the two side.

SNOW: Exactly.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org