Assisted suicide laws in the United States legislate that anyone who has been given a prognosis of having under six months to live is allowed access to lethal drugs. The various states that passed the law fashioned the rule to act as a ‘safeguard’ against the unnecessary termination of life.
But, as with ‘safeguards’ in other assisted suicide bills across the globe, the rule is oftentimes more damaging than effectual. In the case of the United States’ policy, those who fall within the six-month range often find themselves under immense pressure to end their lives. The case of Stephanie Packer is a prime example:
At age 29, Stephanie Packer was diagnosed with scleroderma and was told that she only had three years left. Now 34, she’s still with us, no thanks to her insurance company. After California legalized assisted suicide in 2015, Packer was informed by her insurance company that it would not cover the prescribed chemotherapy, but would cover the cost of drugs that would end her life for a mere $1.20 co-pay.
Another example of the same phenomenon is Barbara Wagner, who received a similar message from her insurance company:
Another Oregon woman, Barbara Wagner, pursued a life-extending therapy prescribed by her doctor after learning that her lung cancer had returned. She received a crushing rejection letter from her insurance company. The company refused to cover the expensive drug that would have prolonged her life and offered to cover lethal drugs instead. “It was horrible,” Wagner said. “I got a letter in the mail that basically said if you want to take the pills, we will help you get that from the doctor and we will stand there and watch you die. But we won't give you the medication to live.”
But not only does this six-month range put pressure on sick and dying individuals to prematurely end their lives, but it has been proven that doctors and other medical professionals are unable to accurately predict lifespan. Their estimates of how long a patient has to live are not much more than a shot in the dark.
The reality is that, when tasked with predicting a patient’s demise, often even the best-trained professionals can do little more than roll the dice. On top of that, insurance companies can save big money by steering patients toward death instead of providing the means to keep them alive. Because of these grave concerns, assisted suicide laws pose far too significant a risk.
In the case of Jeanette Hall, her doctor’s ‘six months to live’ diagnosis was far from accurate:
Jeanette Hall, who lives in Oregon, voted for the ballot measure that made assisted suicide legal in her state. A few years later, in 2000, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live — qualifying her for assisted suicide. That left Hall with two options: Get chemotherapy and attempt to fight the cancer or take lethal drugs to end her life. “I was calling it over,” Hall said later. “I wasn’t going to do chemo. When I heard what might take place in radiation … I wasn’t going to do it. I looked for the easy way out.” But Hall’s physician encouraged her to fight her illness.
Seventeen years later, Hall advocates against the practice she initially preferred. “I am so happy to be alive!” Hall told the media. “If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead.”
Regardless of whether there are safeguards in place or not, assisted suicide will always be a risk. In and of itself, state-sanctioned suicide is a terrible risk. Amendments and rule will do nothing to change that.