Physician-assisted suicide has been sold by proponents as being about “death with dignity” and “choice” and “compassion.” Terminally ill patients may not have much of a choice, however, as more instances of insurance companies denying coverage for treatment are coming to light, in place of covering cheaper physician-assisted suicide drugs.
During the June 29 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson highlighted the case of two patients who were denied coverage. Dr. Brian Callister, the physician for these two patients, explained the situation on Carlson’s June 30 episode, noting that the procedures for his patients (one from Oregon and the other from California) were “standard care” and “curative,” and he wished to make a hospital-to-hospital transfer for them. While the medical director denied coverage for Callister’s patients, he asked Callister if he had spoken to the patients about physician-assisted suicide.
Readers might also recall the story of Stephanie Packer, who was told her chemotherapy threatment would be covered by insurance, only to be denied coverage shortly after her state of California legalized physician-assisted suicide. The insurance company offered to pay for life-ending drugs, however, since they came at such a low cost.
Callister could not disclose his patients’ identities, as that violate HIPAA privacy laws. However, despite skepticism, Callister told Carlson, “any intelligent human being can connect those dots,” despite what proponents argue about a lack of cause and effect for such instances.
And there is a trend for these instances. Both Callister and Dr. Charles Krauthammer warned Carlson that because physician-assisted suicide is the cheaper option, it’s going to become more common.
Colleagues Callister spoke to about these instances of pressure toward assisted suicide seemed “kind of passé about it,” Callister told Live Action News. There are even ethicists who are fine with it, he explained, though they’ve supposedly taken the Hippocratic Oath to uphold life.
Because proponents keep fighting to legalize assisted suicide, Callister believes opponents “have to stay vigilant” when it comes to fighting the practice. He points out that the very reasoning used by assisted suicide proponents — that assisted suicide ends pain and suffering for desperate people — is refuted by Oregon data showing that people who choose assisted suicide don’t list pain and suffering even among their top five reasons.
As a NCBI study on Oregon patients also explained in summarizing the results, “No physical symptoms at the time of the request were rated higher than a median of 2 in importance.” The state of Oregon also included “[i]nadequate pain control or concern about it” as one of the least common “end of life concerns,” at 28.2 percent.
Callister admitted that his profession is “not very good at predicting” how long people will have left and that they often get it wrong. He shared how he’s sent patients to hospice only for them to leave and see him two years later. Callister also explained that when patients do reach the end of their lives, there are ways to manage and control pain and symptoms, noting that “if you have [pain] uncontrollably, you have the wrong doctor.”
Even though there are “guidelines” for assisted suicide, the practice is prone to abuse. This isn’t a hypothetical, as we see that in the Netherlands, 400 people were euthanized without their consent. In that nation, which became the first to legalize physician-assisted suicide, a doctor was even cleared for killing a woman after she changed her mind and fought for her life.
So why do patients feel pushed to choose physician-assisted suicide? It’s not merely the insurance companies pressuring patients. Callister noted that family pressure plays a role, when family members may stand to gain from the patient’s death. Patients have reported that they felt they were a burden on their family members and loved ones. The Oregon study reported that 49.3 percent of patients had this concern.
If Dr. Callister’s patients and others like Packer are denied life-saving treatment — the ability to spend an extra day, month, or year with their loved ones, in favor of a quick death — what has our nation become? Shouldn’t we be treating what is actually wrong with the patient, as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society says we should? What “dignity, choice, and compassion” is there, really, in such a death? To quote Callister, support for physician assisted suicide, amongst the medical community no less, “is a sad commentary on how far our throw-away society has devolved.”
For more information and resources, Dr. Callister suggests PatientsRightsAction.org.