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Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm's brother, fights death panel health care smears

WASHINGTON — Ezekiel Emanuel is a noted oncologist, bioethicist, older brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, an Obama administration health policy adviser — and the target of smears by Sarah Palin and other critics of Democratic health care legislation. He’s now fighting back.

“I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that he’s my brother to make me a target,” Emanuel, a former West Rogers Park resident, told me Thursday.

Emanuel is no “Dr. Death,” though he has published a lot on end-of-life issues. He is an opponent of legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

In recent weeks, Emanuel has been accused — falsely — of advocating those so-called death panels you may have been hearing about in the swelling coverage of raucous town hall meetings and debate over President Obama’s health care overhaul measures pending in Congress.

“Certainly on the death panels one, there is no way you could get that out of my writings at all. It is not just a misinterpretation. That’s a fabrication,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel and I discussed the uproar in a phone interview — he is vacationing in northern Italy.

“I think it is pretty absurd and surreal, really. It’s completely twisting my writing, and I venture to say that most of the people who are commenting probably have not read them in detail, since certainly death panels are very far from anything I’ve ever advocated. I’ve been an opponent of euthanasia, and I have dedicated 25 years of my career to improving care for patients who are facing the last months and weeks of their life,” Emanuel said.

“As far as rationing goes, it’s nothing I’ve ever advocated for the health system as a whole, and I’ve talked about rationing only in the context of situations where you have limited items, like limited livers or limited vaccine, and not for overall health care.”

One proposal in a House bill calls for adding a patient benefit to Medicare — the national insurance program covering seniors — paying a doctor once every five years to discuss end-of-life issues. That provision is a tiny part of a very large bill.

Emanuel noted that the American Medical Association and most other major medical organizations recommend such discussions.

“This is far from being outside the mainstream. People think it is a good thing for doctors to talk to patients about their preferences.”

Emanuel said articles in medical journals he wrote did not, contrary to Palin’s suggestion, suggest that treatment be withheld from children like her Down syndrome baby, Trig, and that the use of selective quotes created a distorted picture.

Emanuel said he has not talked to Obama about these medical ethics questions. Brother Rahm does use him as a health policy resource.

“He calls me, he yells at me and calls me an idiot. But that is usual for Rahm. That is a sign of endearment.