Published August 25, 2009
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday he may introduce legislation to "prohibit" the use of a controversial end-of-life care guide used by the Veterans Administration that critics say sends a "hurry-up-and-die" message to injured troops.
The guide, called "Your Life, Your Choices," was suspended under the Bush administration but has been revived by veterans officials in the Obama administration.
Specter, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, on Monday formally requested a hearing on the subject in a letter to Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, after telling "FOX News Sunday" that he would call for one.
He said he has also asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to suspend the use of the guide and take it down from its Web site pending an analysis of the document.
"That counseling memo is very tough on veterans and I don't think it's the appropriate counseling. I think we have to protect the veterans and encourage them," Specter told FOX News on Tuesday. "If the hearing shows what I think it will show -- that it's not desirable -- I will introduce legislation to prohibit it."
Jim Towey, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, told "FOX News Sunday" that the document makes injured veterans feel like a burden and encourages the severely injured to choose death. He said it should be tossed out.
Towey, who has penned his own end-of-life document called "Five Wishes," first wrote about the revival of the manual last week in The Wall Street Journal.
"This is a slippery slope," he said Sunday. "When you look at the book it makes people feel like they're a burden and they should do the decent thing and die."
But Tammy Duckworth, an injured veteran who is an assistant secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the manual is still under revision -- as stated in a disclaimer issued last week on the department Web site -- and has not officially been "reinstated."
She said it was one of many options for injured veterans, calling it "simply a tool."
"This ultimately is about the ... health care for veterans," Duckworth said.
Though Duckworth said the document has not been fully vetted, an official directive from July tells VA health practitioners to refer veterans to the document. Duckworth questioned whether that directive had been authorized at the highest levels.
Towey said the questions posed by the guide embed the suggestion that veterans who are suffering may want to choose death.
One section titled, "What Makes Your Life Worth Living?," offers a checklist of scenarios -- the person filling out the form is asked to rate whether life would be worth living under each of them.
"I am a severe financial burden on my family," reads one of them. "My situation causes severe emotional burden for my family," reads another.