NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 10, 2009

Imagine receiving a letter from your insurance company rejecting to pay for a drug that could save your life.  Then imagine your state health plan agreeing to pay for your suicide.  That's been the case in Oregon, says ABC News.

The Oregon Health Plan was established in 1994 and the physician-assisted death law, Death With Dignity Law, in 1997.  The health plan, for those whose incomes fall under the poverty level, prioritizes coverage -- from prevention first, to chronic disease management, treatment of mental health, heart and cancer treatment.  However, the health plan takes "no position" on the physician-assisted suicide law.

But a 1998 study from Georgetown University found a strong link between cost-cutting pressures on physicians and their willingness to prescribe lethal drugs to patients -- were it legal to do so:

  • The study warns that there must be "a sobering degree of caution in legalizing (assisted death) in a medical care environment that is characterized by increasing pressure on physicians to control the cost of care."
  • Cancer drugs can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 a month; the cost of lethal medication, on the other hand, is about $35 to $50.
  • However, the problem with the Oregon plan is that it sounds like administrators, not physicians, are making treatment decisions; if a patient can get assisted death paid for but not cancer treatment, the choice is obvious.

But critics, and even supporters, of the Death With Dignity Law -- the only one of its kind in the nation -- have been up in arms recently as idea has spilled over into other states, including Washington, where advocacy groups are pushing for enactment of Initiative 1000 in November, legalizing a similar assisted-death law, says ABC News.

Source: Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2009.

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