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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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.

“[Stephanie] 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,” The Washington Times reported.

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 that 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 lifesaving 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 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 reported, “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 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.

• Tammy Bruce, author and Fox News contributor, is a radio talk show host.


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