The New Rx Cure: Assisted Suicide As A Medical Treatment

You have cancer. Your doctor checks you over and says, “Well, you don’t have long to live, and your insurance doesn’t want to pay for expensive chemo drugs at $5000 a month.”


Your doctor pulls out her prescription pad. 


“We can offer you a quick and painless death through barbiturates,” she says, scribbling the prescription for barbs. “This will cost you less than a hundred bucks.”


Don’t believe it?


It’s already happening.


Randy Stroup, of Dexter, Oregon, was 53 years old when he got prostrate cancer. He had no insurance so he applied for help for his medical treatment from Oregon‘s state health plan.


He got a letter this summer from Lane Individual Practice Association (LIPA), which administers the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County, Oregon.  The letter said that Stroup’s cancer was too advanced to warrant a pricey treatment.


However, the state was willing to pay for his assisted suicide.


 “It dropped my chin to the floor,” Stroup said. “How could they not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?”


Barbara Wagner is another Oregonian who applied for state medical care because she had cancer. She too got a letter from the Oregon Health Plan, notifying her that “Treatment of advanced cancer that is meant to prolong life, or change the course of this disease, is not a covered benefit of the Oregon Health Plan.” 


However, the plan does pay for “comfort care,” or “physician aid in dying,” better known as assisted suicide.


Wagner got angry when she read that letter. She told a local newspaper, “To say to someone, we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it’s cruel. Who do they think they are?”


Dr. William Toffler, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, agrees with Randy Stroup and Barbara Wagner that the new policy of assisted suicide stinks.  


“It’s chilling when you think about it,” he said. “It absolutely conveys to the patient that continued living isn’t worthwhile.”


But as Ursula, the sea witch, told the Little Mermaid, “Life is full of tough choices.”


Dr. Walter Shaffer, a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Plan, said, “We can’t cover everything for everyone. We try to come up with policies that provide the most good for the most people.”


Okay, let’s take another example of assisted suicide as medical treatment. This time,  you don’t have cancer, but you do need an experimental operation.  Are you willing to sign a paper saying that if your surgeon screws it up, you’ll accept an assisted suicide?

Last month, a woman in Cincinnati, Ohio, needed a face transplant, only the fifth one in human history. Her doctor would actually be grafting the face of a dead person on to hers.


However, the hospital was afraid that if the operation did not work, the woman would die a slow death.  A bioethicist suggested that she sign a form agreeing to an assisted suicide – just in case.


 “The biggest ethical problem is dealing with failure — if your face rejects. It would be a living hell,” said bioethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan. “If your face is falling off and you can’t eat and you can’t breathe and you’re suffering in a terrible manner that can’t be reversed, you need to put on the table assistance in dying.”


People vote in favor of assisted suicide laws because they think they are giving themselves a new right – a right to a dignified death. They don’t realize they are giving insurance companies and doctors new rights too. They think in terms of assisted suicide as something they can do at the very end of life to make their deaths more comfortable. They don’t realize that they have created a new form of medical treatment.  And yes, it’s already here.