If you missed it, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) made comments last week that played on the continuing misperception that health care reform has created "death panels" (see my article [PDF] in The Forum for more on the myth).
While Vitter's comments are deplorable, I think it's worth crediting Ben Evans of the Associated Press for an especially aggressive report that explained the subtext of the senator's comments, debunked his claims, and linked them with Vitter's recent pro-birther statement:
Reviving allegations of government death panels, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said Wednesday that an FDA advisory panel's negative recommendation on a contested breast cancer drug amounts to rationing health care.
"I shudder at the thought of a government panel assigning a value to a day of a person's life," Vitter said in a press release about the drug Avastin. "It is sickening to think that care would be withheld from a patient simply because their life is not deemed valuable enough."
While he did not use the term "death panels," his complaint mirrors false allegations raised last year by Republicans such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who claimed the Democratic health care bill included "death panels" that would decide who deserves treatment and who doesn't.
Vitter, who is up for re-election, called on the FDA to reject the panel's recommendation, saying it appears to have been based on cost effectiveness.
But the FDA and its advisory panels don't consider cost effectiveness when reviewing drugs for approval; the agency is charged only with reviewing a product's health risks and benefits.
An independent panel of cancer experts convened by FDA voted 12-1 last week to recommend dropping the agency's endorsement of Avastin's use against breast cancer. The panel cited recent studies finding that the drug did not extend patients' life spans and also increased the incidence of side effects and other complications.
"We have definitive evidence that Avastin causes harmful side effects and we've now seen a number of well-done studies that show no advantage to lifespan," panel chair Dr. Wyndham Wilson of the National Cancer Institute said at the time of the vote.
a blockbuster cancer drug that had $5.9 billion in sales last year for drug maker Roche is also approved for colon, lung, kidney and brain cancer. The panel's recommendation pertains only to its use in breast cancer, for which it was given conditional approval in 2008.
FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said the agency was still considering the panel's recommendation and will make a decision based on safety and effectiveness. The agency usually follows such recommendations, but not always.
Vitter recently embraced another debunked claim pushed by some critics of President Barack Obama, saying that he supports lawsuits contesting Obama's citizenship. He later said he does not personally question the president's Hawaiian birth certificate.
There's no punch-pulling or phony balance anywhere. While my research (PDF) with Jason Reifler suggests that such articles may not be effective in reducing misperceptions among the public, increasing the reputational consequences of deception in this way might help reduce the supply of misinformation (see here, here, and here [PDF] for more).