Abus­ing as­sisted sui­cide laws

In­surance com­pa­nies take ad­van­tage of pa­tients seen as too ex­pen­sive to keep alive

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Tammy Bruce

As we re­main in­un­dated with the news and chaos of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, a life-and-death strug­gle is emerg­ing here at home, man­i­fest­ing some of the same threats to Western val­ues, and even to the core un­der­stand­ing of civ­i­liza­tion it­self and its value of life. With the pas­sage of as­sisted-sui­cide laws, there are new re­ports that health in­surance com­pa­nies are re­fus­ing to cover life­sav­ing med­i­cal care and are of­fer­ing to pay pa­tients to kill them­selves in­stead. It is, af­ter all, cheaper.

The de­bate sur­round­ing le­gal­iz­ing as­sisted sui­cide is largely cast as one fo­cus­ing on an in­di­vid­ual who gen­uinely wants to end his or her life be­cause of the pain and suf­fer­ing they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing due to

a ter­mi­nal med­i­cal con­di­tion. But this is­sue is wholly dif­fer­ent — the pos­si­ble cold-blooded and bru­tal abuse of those laws by bu­reau­crats in in­surance com­pa­nies against pa­tients whom they de­ter­mine are too ex­pen­sive to keep alive.

Last Oc­to­ber, this news­pa­per re­ported the story of a ter­mi­nally ill woman in Cal­i­for­nia whose in­surance com­pany, she al­leges, re­fused to cover more chemo­ther­apy treat­ments once the state passed its End of Life Op­tion Act, “which au­tho­rizes physi­cians to di­ag­nose a life-end­ing dose of med­i­ca­tion to pa­tients with a prog­no­sis of six months or less to live.

“Ms. Packer said her doc­tors have ap­pealed the in­surance com­pany’s de­ci­sion twice, to no avail. She said the as­sisted-sui­cide law cre­ates an in­cen­tive for in­surance com­pa­nies to deny ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients cover­age. ‘As soon as this law was passed — and you see it every­where when th­ese laws are passed — pa­tients fight­ing for a longer life end up get­ting de­nied treat­ment, be­cause this will al­ways be the cheap­est op­tion,’ she said,” re­ported The Wash­ing­ton Times.

In ad­di­tion to help­ing main­tain or­der in so­ci­ety, laws are meant to shape us morally by send­ing mes­sages about what we value. Imag­ine the mes­sage th­ese laws send to pa­tients fight­ing for their lives, who be­lieve ev­ery day is a gift, and have been told they have only months to live. There are in­nu­mer­able sto­ries of those who have sur­vived years past their sup­posed ex­pi­ra­tion date, and yet, with as­sisted-sui­cide laws, the mes­sage so­ci­ety sends is, you should con­sider check­ing out early.

And then there are the doc­tors. Heal­ers who pledge to do no harm are now fac­ing a sys­tem which will even­tu­ally ex­pect them to do just that. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Brian Cal­lis­ter, it’s hap­pen­ing now. He was shocked when two dif­fer­ent in­surance com­pa­nies re­fused life-sav­ing treat­ment for his pa­tients, and sug­gested he help them kill them­selves in­stead.

Dr. Cal­lis­ter, a doc­tor in

Ne­vada, “tried to trans­fer two pa­tients to Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon for pro­ce­dures not per­formed at his hos­pi­tal. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from two dif­fer­ent in­surance com­pa­nies de­nied those trans­fer re­quests by phone, he said. ‘And in both cases, the in­surance med­i­cal di­rec­tor said to me, ‘Brian, we’re not go­ing to cover that pro­ce­dure or the trans­fer, but would you con­sider as­sisted sui­cide?’’ he told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

More­over, his pa­tients were not ter­mi­nal, but would be­come so without the treat­ment he sought for them.

Right now just Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ore­gon, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton, Mon­tana and the District of Columbia have le­gal­ized physi­cian-as­sisted sui­cide. But the trend is spread­ing.

Free Bea­con re­ports, “Bills to le­gal­ize as­sisted sui­cide are be­ing de­bated in 14 states, while 15 oth­ers, from lib­eral Con­necti­cut to con­ser­va­tive Utah, have al­ready de­feated leg­is­la­tion in 2017. Ne­vada be­came the cen­ter­piece of the de­bate over the prac­tice af­ter the Se­nate passed as­sisted sui­cide by one vote in May. The bill is now up for de­bate in the state Assem­bly and is at­tract­ing par­ti­sans on both sides of the de­bate.”

In all the dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing the is­sue, the ar­gu­ment is framed as though this is sim­ply giv­ing a doc­tor and pa­tient an­other al­ter­na­tive, some­thing dis­cussed pri­vately. Amer­ica’s Health In­surance Plans, an ad­vo­cacy group that rep­re­sents in­surance providers, told The Wash­ing­ton Times “Health plans do not with­hold or deny life-sus­tain­ing care in states that have physi­cian-as­sisted sui­cide,” which re­in­forces the as­ser­tion that this de­ci­sion is up to the doc­tor and pa­tient, without in­ter­fer­ence.

Yet in 2008, when Ore­gon had the only as­sisted-sui­cide law in the coun­try, 64-year-old Bar­bara Wag­ner’s lung cancer re­turned and her doc­tor pre­scribed a $4,000 a month med­i­ca­tion to keep her alive. But it was not to be. Her in­surance com­pany sent her an un­signed treat­ment re­jec­tion let­ter, along with the sug­ges­tion she con­sider as­sisted sui­cide.

In 2008, Ms. Wag­ner told ABCNews.com, “It was hor­ri­ble. I got a let­ter in the mail that ba­si­cally said if you want to take the pills, we will help you get that from the doc­tor and we will stand there and watch you die. But we won’t give you the med­i­ca­tion to live.”

Now that we fi­nally have a pres­i­dent de­ter­mined to keep this na­tion safe from the scourge of ter­ror­ism, it only makes sense to fully con­front a ni­hilis­tic men­ace of our own mak­ing here at home. Yes, we must get rid of Oba­macare, but in that process we must re­turn health care and treat­ment de­ci­sions to doc­tors and their pa­tients. Al­low­ing in­surance com­pany bu­reau­crats to over­rule how a doc­tor will treat a pa­tient at any point is ab­surd, but in an age when some states are le­gal­iz­ing as­sisted sui­cide, it can be down­right deadly.

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