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January 5, 2011

Return of the "Death Panel" Myth is a "Travesty," Says Dr. Atul Gawande

Democracy Now: "DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Well, this change, which is to remove provisions that would have allowed for doctors to have additional payments to have end-of-life discussions with their patients, is an example of the mistake that repeal represents as a whole. End-of-life discussions are not death panels. But you say it over and over again, you brand it over and over again, and you begin to define what the meaning is of a major policy that’s passed. Being able to provide funding for discussions that have been shown to have a huge difference in improving the quality of life patients have and, in a recent study published in the New England Journal, also generated longer life for patients by helping them make better decisions about when to stop therapies that have become harmful to them, like that fourth round of chemotherapy and so on, those kinds of studies indicate we need more, longer and better discussions with doctors, overall. Repeal is a major mistake. Our choices are stalemate on making any kind of progress on healthcare at a time that the costs are going to be disastrous for our country over the next decade and at a time when more and more Americans are simply without health insurance.

"AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about what these end-of-life discussions are about. You wrote a very moving piece and also, I think, surprising piece called "Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save Your Life?" It appeared in The New Yorker magazine in August. You looked at a number of cases of people at the end of life, and you also looked at studies, like the Aetna study. You looked at La Crosse, Wisconsin. You looked at what happens when people start talking about the end of life."