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Obama speaks about grandmother’s death

President Barack Obama speaks in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
President Barack Obama speaks in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

President trying to assuage health care reform fears

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Now, it’s personal.

President Barack Obama invoked his own anguish over the death of a loved one as he challenged the debunked notion that Democratic efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care would include “death panels.”

“I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love, who’s aging, deteriorate and have to struggle with that,” an impassioned Obama told a crowd as he spoke of Madelyn Payne Dunham. He took issue with “the notion that somehow I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so they can go around pulling the plug on grandma.”

“When you start making arguments like that, that’s simply dishonest – especially when I hear the arguments coming from members of Congress in the other party who, turns out, sponsored similar provisions,” Obama said.

In a debate in which he often sounded professorial, Obama spoke with a rare bit of emotion that seemed to counter that of vocal health reform opponents as he made reference to the beloved grandmother who helped raise him. She died of cancer at age 86 on Nov. 2, two days before he won election as president.

He talked about her death while answering a question about misinformation being spread about Democratic health care efforts during a town hall-style gathering in a school gym.

“Health care is really hard. This is not easy. I’m a reasonably dedicated student to this issue. I’ve got a lot of really smart people around me who’ve been working on this for months now,” he said. “There is no perfect painless silver bullet out there that solves every problem, gives everybody health care for free. There isn’t. I wish there was.”

But he said that because there’s no perfect solution to solving health care, opponents “start saying things like we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma.”

The president is seeking to put to rest claims that the health care overhaul he seeks would set up “death panels” to rule on life-sustaining care for ailing seniors. It would not, and Obama has stressed that point repeatedly over the past week.

Obama reiterated his contention that the Democratic health care legislation would not create “death panels” to deny care to frail seniors. Obama has explained that the provision that has caused the uproar would only authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, living wills, hospice care and other issues, if the patient wants it.

Conservatives have called end-of-life counseling in government health care programs a step toward euthanasia; former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin likened the idea to a bureaucratic “death panel” that would decide whether sick people get to live. Those claims have been widely discredited, but the issue remains a political weapon in the bitter health care debate.

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