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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oregon Woman Offered Coverage for Assisted Suicide

In July, the Oregon Health Plan injudiciously sent a letter to lung-cancer patient Barbara Wagner denying coverage for the expensive chemotherapy her doctor had recommended, and offering instead to cover palliative care “including doctor-assisted suicide.”

The firestorm of outrage this letter triggered (to see the outrage for yourself, simply Google the search terms “Barbara Wagner” and “suicide”) penetrated even the dulled sensibilities of the Oregon insurance executives. One Jim Sellers, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Plan, admitted to ABC News that “the letter to Wagner was a public relations blunder and something the state is ‘working on.’”

Those who run the Oregon Health Plan must be particularly disheartened to learn that even vocal proponents of physician-assisted suicide are criticizing their ill-considered denial letter. To so blatantly juxtapose healthcare rationing with the “option” of assisted suicide seriously undermines the chief argument advanced publicly by the end-of-life movement, namely, that assisted suicide is primarily an individual autonomy play*, and not primarily a cost-saving mechanism.

In other words, whether or not you embrace physician-assisted suicide, everyone seems to agree that offering it as a covered medical service immediately after denying potentially life-prolonging therapy is both insensitive and unseemly.

Read it all here.

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