December 9, 2013

“Palliative” Care and Assisted Suicide Only Options for some Oregon Patients

hospital arms
Oregon is spending $3.2 million on an ad campaign for the Affordable Care Act to increase enrollment in the new “Cover Oregon” health insurance exchange.
Meanwhile, the state is taking steps “that would deny life-saving treatments” to low-income residents who find themselves among the roughly 19 000 Oregonians diagnosed with cancer each year, according to Peter J. Pitts’ November 4th Statesman Journal article “From Eugene to Eugenics: Oregon’s new cost-cutting strategy is to deny care to cancer patients.”
Mr. Pitts, President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former Associate Commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration, reported on the Oregon Health Evidence Review Commission’s August update to its guidelines regarding cancer treatment for low-income individuals under the state’s Medicaid program.
Medicaid must now refuse coverage for certain cancer treatments for those who have been deemed too sick, who have not responded well to previous treatments, or who are unable to care for themselves. For these patients, Medicaid will provide “palliative” care such as painkillers, acupuncture treatments, wheelchairs and anti-nausea medicine.
Medicaid currently covers more than 640 000 Oregonians, or approximately one in five residents.
Describing the state’s approach as “the practice of cost-centric controls over patient-centric care,” Mr. Pitts wondered, “So while Oregon won’t let Medicaid patients have access to cancer medicines that could prolong or save their lives, it will pay to make their deaths slightly less painful. Is that what Oregon considers compassionate care?”
Kenneth Thorpe, Chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, stated that these guidelines are based “on the odds of survival observed in a group of patients” rather than on medical literature or best clinical practices.
B. J. Cavnor, Executive Director of the Northwest Patient Education Network, noted that “patients who could have beaten their illness will no longer have that chance” and described the treatment restrictions as “extremely frustrating and morbidly ironic, especially for those of us who have tried to argue that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow for ‘death panels.’”
Brian Koenig’s August 15th article for The New American, “Oregon Expands ‘Death Panel’ Healthcare System,” explained that “‘Death panel’ is a term referring to ObamaCare’s panel of bureaucrats who decide whether or not certain Americans should receive medical care, through deciding which treatments to cover or not.”
Gayle Atteberry, Executive Director of Oregon Right to Life, noted that the Oregon Health Plan already included a similar provision affecting a much smaller group of people.
With more rigorous enforcement of the new guidelines likely, the rationing system will become “a broader, death panel-guided system,” according to the article.
Medicaid continues to subsidize assisted suicide for terminal cancer patients as an alternative to life-extending treatments. The state’s Death with Dignity Act, passed in 1997, allows terminally ill residents to end their lives by taking doctor-prescribed lethal medications.
The article noted that, along with health care rationing, there have been cases in Oregon where Medicaid patients denied medical treatment were offered assisted suicide, as in the case of Randy Stroup, who had prostate cancer. Wesley Smith’s February 20, 2009, article in The Telegraph, “‘Right to die’ can become a ‘duty to die’,” quoted Mr. Stroup as saying, “[How could they] not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?”
A few years ago, Another patient, Barbara Wagner was also offered assisted suicide instead of further cancer treatment. The Oregon Health Plan would not cover the costs of the medication prescribed by her oncologist. Ms Wagner said at the time: “To say to someone , we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it’s cruel. I get angry. Who do they think they are?”
These are the fruits of the assisted suicide mentality where life has little value and an offer to cover a prescription for lethal medications to kill yourself  is presented as compassionate care.

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