Stephen Hawking Defends Care in the U.K. - Prescriptions Blog - NYTimes.com August 12, 2009, 6:01 PM Stephen Hawking Defends Care in the U.K. By BERNIE BECKER The physicist Stephen Hawking is defending Britains National Health Service after an editorial in Investors Business Daily said Mr. Hawking wouldnt have a chance in the U.K., where the health service would have deemed his life essentially worthless. The problem with the editorial, of course, is that Mr. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, is very much a Briton born in Oxford and currently a professor at the University of Cambridge. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Physicist Stephen Hawking receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday from President Obama. The publications mistake, which came in an editorial titled How House Bill Runs Over Grandma, has since been corrected. But on a larger level, the snafu also shows how quickly rationing, particularly at the end of life, has become a focus of the health care reform debate. Mr. Hawking who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Wednesday responded to the editorial this week, telling The Guardian newspaper, I wouldnt be here today if it were not for the N.H.S. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived. (For the record, the original editorial contained this: People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldnt have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.) Editor Wesley F. Mann of Investors Business Daily did not respond to a request for comment. The I.B.D. editorial takes a look at rationing in the British health care system, calling the consequences legendary. The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror movie script, the editorial asserted. The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to. To back up that claim, the editorial quotes Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, who wrote in the New York Post that One troubling provision of the House bill compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years (and more often if they become sick or go into a nursing home) about alternatives for end-of-life care. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin recently took a similar tack on her Facebook page, writing that the sick and elderly would have to stand before Obamas death panel so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their level of productivity in society, whether they are worthy of health care. The Timess Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn have found that those concerns appear to be unfounded, noting that the AARP said the rumors out there are flat-out lies. What the House bill would do, according to Mr. Pear and Mr. Herszenhorn, is provide Medicare coverage for optional consultations with doctors who advise patients on life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life services, including hospice care. Politifact.com, the St. Petersburg Timess truth-squadding team, has also looked into statements of Ms. McCaughey, including this one: Congress would make it mandatory absolutely require that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner. The group said that Ms. McCaughey was spreading a ridiculous falsehood.