New California Law Allows Health Insurance to Deny Treatment But Cover Assisted Suicide Drugs

State   |   Sarah Zagorski   |   Oct 8, 2015   |   11:07AM   |   Sacramento, CA

On October 5th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a dangerous bill that made his state the fourth in the country to legalize physician-assisted suicide, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont. His decision upset religious leaders, pro-life activists and disability rights organizations because it opens Pandora’s Box to all sorts of evils.

In July, California lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) explained some of the ways the law could be used to manipulate people into killing themselves. She said, “My concern is for people who don’t have resources, who don’t have a choice. You read about Oregon denying someone a lung transplant, but, ‘Here, you can you have these pills.’ That’s my fear about what this would become.”

Assemblywoman Gonzalez is not alone in her opinion about assisted suicide; countless experts have explained that it’s nearly impossible to ensure that the legislation will not used to target marginalized populations, such as the sick and elderly. Additionally, the Daily Signal reports that some believe the law will impact the poor the most because health care plans could refuse to provide coverage for certain expensive drugs.

In fact, Dr. William Toffler wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he’s seen this problem in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1998. He said under Oregon’s Health Care Plan some drugs and pain medications that his patients need are not covered yet a prescription for a lethal dose of phenobarbital is. He asked, “Supporters claim physician-assisted suicide gives patients choice, but what sort of a choice is it when life is expensive but death is free?”

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In a report from The Heritage Foundation, Ryan T. Anderson explained that assisted suicide might be seen as a new solution for the sick and disabled as health care costs continue to increase. He said, “Given the increasing number of elderly patients in modern societies, their increasing longevity, and the increasing cost of treating their chronic illnesses, [physician-assisted suicide] will increasingly be seen as a cost-effective option and one that the elderly should be encouraged to consider.”

The disability-rights group Not Dead Yet agrees with Anderson’s assessment and believes legalizing assisted suicide is dangerous. They said, “[I]t cannot be seriously maintained that assisted suicide laws can or do limit assisted suicide to people who are imminently dying, and voluntarily request and consume a lethal dose, free of inappropriate pressures from family or society. Rather, assisted suicide laws ensure legal immunity for physicians who already devalue the lives of older and disabled people and have significant economic incentives to at least agree with their suicides, if not encourage them, or worse.”

In January, Ann Cupolo Freeman, a board member of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, said something similar about California’s assisted suicide bill. In an op-ed, she wrote, “Nothing in the proposed assisted suicide law protects patients when family pressures, whether financial or emotional, distort the ill person’s choice. And nothing prevents an heir, who stands to benefit from the patient’s death, from helping the patient sign up for the lethal dose.”

She added, “No assisted suicide “safeguard” can ever protect against coercion. In this era of managed care, will those living with a disability and the seriously ill be more likely offered lethal prescriptions in place of medical treatment? A prescription for 100 Seconal tablets costs far less than most medical treatments, especially considering the cost of long-term care for someone living with a disability.”