by Andrea Moury
Insurance companies claim that their customers’ health is of utmost priority, but in reality, these companies sometimes prioritize the cheapest option — even if that means assisted suicide.
Twice in the past year, Dr. Brian Callister, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Nevada, tried to transfer cancer patients out of state for procedures not performed at his hospital, and twice he was told, “Brian, we’re not going to cover that procedure or the transfer, but hey, by the way, have you considered assisted suicide?”
The calls Callister placed were to insurance companies in California and Oregon, two of the six states (plus Washington, DC) which permit physician assisted suicide.
Callister points out that the reason why the insurance companies denied his request is quite obvious: “It’s a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs and kill you than it is to provide you life sustaining therapy. It’s as simple as that.” Callister accuses the insurance companies of attempting to portray themselves as advocates for patients, while in reality promoting whatever is the least costly option.
Lethal pills to kill a patient can cost as little as $35, which, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to treat cancer, is a drop in the bucket. Remember, insurance companies are just like all other companies. They search for the best deals they can get. In these cases, the most cost-effective option was assisted suicide — so that was the only “treatment” they were willing to cover.
While they refused to cover the life-saving treatment, the insurance companies were very eager to cover the cheaper life-taking “treatment.” In fact, they were so eager to help the patients end their own lives that they suggested it even without the patients or Callister showing any interest.
Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that the patients were not even terminal patients at the time that Callister phoned the insurance companies. Therefore, these companies were offering assisted suicide as the only option they would cover for non-terminal patients.
Unfortunately, these were also not the first documented cases of insurance companies denying medical coverage and offering assisted suicide instead. Just last fall, a few months after California’s new physician assisted suicide law took effect, Stephanie Packer, a young wife and mother of four, was denied coverage for chemotherapy treatment but told that her insurance company would cover her assisted suicide. She would only have to pay $1.20 to get a doctor’s help to kill herself.
Callister believes that experiences like Packer’s and his own are confirmation of the “‘slippery slope’ of the risks surrounding legalization of doctor-assisted suicide.” In order to try to stop the progress of that “slippery slope,” Callister has submitted a statement resisting the push for assisted suicide in the Nevada legislature. If assisted suicide is legalized in Nevada and elsewhere, he fears more and more patients will be pressured by their insurance companies into ending their own lives rather than pursuing the life-saving treatments they ought to be offered.