I Bet Health Insurers Would Gladly Cover Suicide Pills

by Bill Brenner on February 13, 2012

The Catholic Church is bringing out its heavy artillery to fight a Massachusetts ballot initiative that, if passed, would allow doctors to prescribe lethal pills to terminally-ill patients that want to be put out of their misery.

I’m with the church on this one.

Mood music:

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh describes this quite nicely:

An initiative petition to legalize physician-assisted suicide has been certified by Attorney General Martha Coakley. If backers collect enough signatures, and the Legislature fails to act, the question will go on the November 2012 ballot.

Modeled on the death-with-dignity law in Washington state, the measure says that if an adult state resident is judged terminally ill with less than six months to live by two physicians, he can get a lethal prescription.

The initial request has to be made in writing. Two people, one of whom is not a family member (and would not share in the estate), have to witness the signing of the request and attest that patient is capable and acting voluntarily. The terminally ill patient has to repeat the request twice verbally, at an interval of at least 15 days. He would be counseled about alternatives like hospice care and pain control. The lethal dose would not be administered by a physician; rather, the patient would swallow it himself.

If the initiative does make the ballot, expect determined opposition. Indeed, Cardinal Sean O’Malley focused on the ballot question during a recent Mass for Bay State lawmakers and jurists, saying he hoped that Massachusetts citizens would not be seduced by language like “dignity,’’ “mercy,’’ and “compassion.’’ Those words, he said, are a “means to disguise the sheer brutality of helping people to kill themselves. A vote for physician-assisted suicide is a vote for suicide.’’

After laying all this out, Lehigh asks:

“If a terminally ill patient wants to end his life a little early, why is that against the good of his person?”

Fair question. Here’s my opinion:

When a person chooses to end their life it’s always tragic. If depression is the cause, the individual has lost all hope and is effectively no longer able to make sand decisions. If a person is terminally ill, they are often in unspeakable pain. On some levels, you can’t blame a person in that situation for wanting to end the pain.

Here’s my problem, though:

Doctors are often wrong. I know of many people who were told they had six months to live and outlasted the grim prognosis by years. Whether you have weeks, months or years to live, there’s a lot of good you can still do with your life. We’ve heard many tales of people who achieved greatness in the face of death, helping their fellow man and living with dignity instead of rolling over and quitting.

When a person is so sick they can’t do those things, they want to relieve loved ones of the burden they feel they’ve become. But to me that’s bullshit. If you spend your life taking care of people, it’s perfectly appropriate for them to take care of you when the time comes. Most people I know want to care for their sick loved ones.

My ultimate attitude is that it’s not over until God says it’s over. Trying to die before it’s really time is cheating. Some will cry bullshit on that point. I don’t really care.

If you want to die with dignity, that’s your business.

I’d rather live with dignity — If for no other reason than to piss off the health insurers who fight tooth and nail not to cover life-saving procedures on a daily basis.

I bet my insurance provider would gladly cover my lethal injection. It’s cheaper than paying for my other procedures.

This could be my way of saying “fuck them.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jessica February 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

Bill,
I have to respectfully disagree with your opinion on this one. While I agree that doctors make mistakes and can be wrong about how long someone has left , we aren’t talking about someone being told they have 6 months to live and being handed a suicide pill. Most if not all people would try to live out their life the best they could until the pain became unbearable.
In the past three years I watched two beloved family members suffer needlessly and die. My uncle was in the circumstance you described. He was diagnosed with cancer and given 6 months to live. He lived another 4 years. The last 3 years and probably 7 months were wonderful, but those last 5 were torture, for him and everyone around him. Not only was he in too much pain to function, he had lost his fun nature, his sense of humor, his intelligence, everything that made him HIM. Living those last few months were not a blessing but a curse and to this day I wish I could have helped him move onto the next phase of existence with not only dignity but also comfort.
Then there is my Nana – one of the most important people in my life. Her death in itself was not a tragedy – she lived 86 wonderful years. The past five years she was on dialysis and trudged through her treatment. In November she fell and broke 6 ribs and her pelvis and that was the beginning of the end for her. She died less than a month later. Her health deteriorated day after day, yet she would not refuse dialysis because she believed doing so would be considered suicide by the Catholic Church. Each dialysis session drained her of her precious energy and like my uncle she became a shell of the woman she once was. The last week of her life she was no longer coherent and was on so many pain killers she was hardly conscience. Only then did she cease her treatment, but even then she wasn’t the one who made the decision, it fell to her 8 children who (though they believe they made the right choice) carry the guilt of wondering if this is what she would have wanted. Had it not been for the stigma of euthanasia I believe she would have made this decision on her own earlier.
I know this is a touchy issue. I have several people in my family with depression and the possibility of suicide is terrifying in these cases. But death with dignity is not the same thing. I often wonder why, if my beloved dog was close to death and in pain is it alright to help him die it wouldn’t be for a human family member? After all medical possibilities are exhausted and death is eminent, AND the person is only suffering why wouldn’t I give them the same courtesy I would give my pet?
Sorry for the long comment – this is something I am passionate about.

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