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Obama discusses deathbed measures

At a healthcare town hall, he says stopping futile procedures for the terminally ill can lower costs.

June 25, 2009|Peter Nicholas

WASHINGTON — President Obama suggested at a town hall event Wednesday night that one way to shave medical costs is to stop expensive and ultimately futile procedures performed on people who are about to die and don't stand to gain from the extra care.

In a nationally televised event at the White House, Obama said families need better information so they don't unthinkingly approve "additional tests or additional drugs that the evidence shows is not necessarily going to improve care."

He added: "Maybe you're better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller."

Obama said he has personal familiarity with such a dilemma. His grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given less than nine months to live, he said.

She fell and broke her hip, "and the question was, does she get hip replacement surgery, even though she was fragile enough they were not sure how long she would last?"

Obama's grandmother died two days before he was elected president in November. It was unclear whether she underwent the hip-replacement surgery.

The event, hosted by ABC News' Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, gave Obama a prime-time forum to promote his healthcare overhaul. A total of 164 guests were invited. ABC pre-screened questions, though the White House was not made aware of what they would be.

Republicans described the event as an "infomercial," faulting ABC for giving the president such valuable TV time in the midst of a high-stakes partisan policy discussion.

The audience -- which included doctors, patients, health insurers, students and people with ailing relatives -- clearly was unhappy with the current healthcare system. Gibson asked for a show of hands to see how many wanted to leave the system unchanged. No one raised a hand.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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