We’ll pay you to die, but not to live

Is this a case of bureaucratic madness or bureaucratic thrift? The state health insurer in the American state of Oregon is denying patients funding for chemotherapy if their chances of survival for another five years are less than five percent. However, they have another option. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon. So the Oregon Health Plan sent letters to at least two patients saying that cancer medication would not be covered but that doctor-assisted suicide would.

“I think it’s messed up,” 64-year-old Barbara Wagner told the Register-Guard newspaper. “To say to someone, we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it’s cruel.” And 53-year-old Randy Stroup received the same response when he was denied medication for his prostate cancer. "It dropped my chin to the floor," Mr Stroup said. "[How could they] not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?"

"It's chilling when you think about it," Dr William Toffler, a lecturer at Oregon Health & Science University and the national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care, told Fox News. "It absolutely conveys to the patient that continued living isn't worthwhile... It corrupts the consistent medical ethic that has been in place for 2,000 years."

Oregon health bureaucrats were jolted by the reactions of the two patients. “I understand the way it was interpreted,” said Dr John Sattenspiel. “I’m not sure how we can lift that. The reality is, at some level [doctor-assisted suicide] could be considered as a palliative or comfort care measure. We had no intent to upset [Barbara Wagner] but we do need to point out the options available to her under the Oregon Health Plan.” ~ Register-Guardian, June 3; Fox News, July 28

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