Rick Santorum and James Dobson Push 'Death Panels' Myth, Nostalgic for Time When Abortion was a Crime

At the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri before the upcoming presidential primary in the state (which is non-binding and awards zero delegates), Rick Santorum joined Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to push the myth that the recently passed health care reform law would lead to ‘death panels.’ Santorum has made criticism of the law a chief aspect of his campaign and during the event repeated James Dobson’s claim, which he says he learned from a caller on a talk radio show, that stroke patients over the age of 70 “will not be granted treatment,” a charge the Health and Human Services Department called “absolutely false.” Challenging health care reform with debunked smears, unfortunately, is not new from either talk radio or Republican presidential candidates. 

To bolster this claim, Santorum rehashed another myth about the dangers of government involvement in healthcare by maintaining that euthanasia represents “10% of all deaths in the Netherlands,” and “ObamaCare” will surely lead the U.S. down a similar path. However, a recent study shows that just 1.8% of all deaths in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, are a result of physician-assisted suicide, and the rate is going down.

Santorum also seemed to express nostalgia for the days of back alley abortions when abortion was a crime and “people who did abortions were in the shadows, people who were considered really bad doctors.” 


The Associated Press reported from the event on the ‘death panels’ claim:

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Friday backed prominent conservative James Dobson's claim that President Barack Obama's administration would block medical treatment for stroke patients over age 70. Professional medical groups have called such statements bogus.

During a forum inside a church, Dobson cited an anonymous caller to a conservative radio show who said "for patients over 70 years of age, that advanced neurosurgical care was not generally indicated." The caller claimed that patients would be offered "comfort care" unless a panel of bureaucrats approved more significant treatment.

"That's called 'death panels.' Sarah Palin was right. That means death to that person," said Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family.

Palin, the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2008, coined the term "death panel" in response to the administration's health care law, although her argument was roundly criticized as inaccurate.

Santorum seemed to go along with Dobson, arguing that government-run health care would result in limits on care. He brought Obama's health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, into the argument.

"When you become a cost, then the government starts to allocate resources," Santorum said. "Well, who should we be allocating these resources to? We shouldn't be allocating it to 70-year-old of people who have strokes, according to Kathleen Sebelius."

The regulation does not exist, medical professionals said.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons said in a joint statement they were "unaware of any federal government document directing that advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 years of age will not be indicated and only supportive care treatment will be provided."

The Health and Human Services Department also rejected the allegation. "These claims are absolutely false and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons have both gone on the record to denounce these false rumors as well," spokeswoman Erin Shields said in a statement.

Dobson, who has endorsed Santorum's candidacy and has joined him at campaign-style appearances, seemed unaware of the disputed statement.

"Secretary Sebelius in the Obama administration, within the Obamacare plan, decreed a few weeks ago that as of January first of next year, if you are over 60 years of age — I beg your pardon — if you're over 70 years of age and you have a cranial bleed — blood is running into your brain, which is a horrible condition, it destroys the brain tissue, if you survive it, you will never the same again — they decreed that you will not be granted treatment," Dobson said.