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Terminally Ill Woman Denied Treatment Coverage, But Can Get Approved For Suicide Drug

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Nearly two years ago, a 29-year-old Oregon woman became the face of the “Right to Die” movement after she took her own life, legally, with a self-administered overdose of physician-prescribed barbiturates. Now a California woman (Stephanie) wants to be the face of a “Right to Live” movement – until she draws her last breath from her oxygen tube, ultimately accepting a natural end.

The terminally ill mother of four kids, ages 7 through 13, was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes scar tissue to form in her lungs. There is no cure, and doctors told her she had three years to live; she was 29 at the time. Now 33, she has outlived the death sentence. But, her condition has been deteriorating.

Doctors suggested that trying a different chemotherapy drug might buy her more time with her family. After five months, Stephanie’s insurance company said they would cover the drug. Then, in June, California enacted a law permitting doctor-assisted suicide. Once the law went into effect, things changed. A week later, Stephanie received a letter denying coverage. The letter didn’t say why so she called. After not getting a clear answer, Stephanie asked if she could get the drug approved under the new physician assisted suicide law. She was astounded that although the insurance company would not pay for a drug to help keep her alive, they would cover the cost of a drug to put her to death – with a co-pay of $1.20. Why?  It was cheaper!

Doctors appealed it twice, but the insurance company still refused to help extend Stephanie’s life. Yes, as she was fighting for her life, the state of California and the insurance company basically said, “Let’s cut our losses, you are going to die anyway!” How despicable!

Doctor appealed it twice and the insurance company still said no. A representative for Compassion & Choices, a “death with dignity” advocacy group, said that such treatment delays or rejections are “not uncommon” in the cost-conscious insurance industry. But Stephanie would not give up. She went to social media and threatened to tell her story to the media. Months later, the chemotherapy drug was approved.

Stephanie has since been featured in Compassion and Choice DENIED which explores the effects efforts to legalize physician assisted suicide have on those who are living with terminal illness but who do not want “aid in dying.” She said that the law negatively changes the ways in which people with terminal illnesses are thought of, and the ways in which they think about themselves. Where once terminally ill patients would meet for support and love, they now gather to talk about death and say it is time to stop trying to fight it; many have become depressed and suicidal.

Yes, Stephanie will die. All terminally ill patients will die. Everyone is going to die – someday. You have the right to stop treatment or to end your life, but it should not be supported or ended by a physician or the government. Stephanie wants to live for her kids. She wants to show them that dying is a part of life and even a time to appreciate/say the things you didn’t before.

Patients should not be dying because of a law; they should not be dying because they can’t get the treatment they need to extend their life. What is this world coming to if we are passing laws to end a life just because it doesn’t meet the insurance company’s bottom line? While life-affirming palliative care remains an expensive medical cost, Stephanie recommended that more energy and resources be expended to fund hospice care, instead of making death the cheaper option. What do you think?

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California and Montana; a proposal is on Colorado’s ballots in the Nov. 8 election. Similar initiatives are being considered in the Council of the District of Columbia and the New Jersey and New York state legislatures.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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  1. Will says:
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    This is big. I hope voters in Colorado see it!