In 2015, I blogged that California had passed an assisted suicide law.

A year later, I noted that one young mother said her insurance company denied her coverage for chemotherapy treatment after originally agreeing to provide the fiscal support for it, but indicated it would be willing to pay for assisted suicide instead.

Now, the state of Nevada is considering its own version of assisted suicide legislation (SB261). In an effort to stop this measure, Patients’ Rights Action Fund (PRAF) releasing a video in which a Nevada physician discusses his personal experience with insurance companies refusing to reimburse life-saving treatments for seriously ill patients he wants treated at facilities in which assisted suicide has become legal. However, they seem willing to pay for less expensive lethal prescription for ending the patients’ lives.

Brian Callister, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Nevada, said he tried to transfer two patients to California and Oregon for procedures not performed at his hospital. Representatives from two different insurance companies denied those transfer requests by phone, he said.

“And in both cases, the insurance medical director said to me, ‘Brian, we’re not going to cover that procedure or the transfer, but would you consider assisted suicide?’” Dr. Callister told The Washington Times.

The phone calls took place last year within the span of a month, Dr. Callister said, adding that he did nothing to prompt the assisted suicide suggestion in either case.

“You would think the second time, I would have been ready for it,” the doctor said. “But I was so stunned, I muttered the same stupid line: ‘That’s not legal in Nevada yet.’ That’s all I could come up with.”

Here is the key point of Callister’s statements above: He indicated that the treatments were life-saving. Aren’t the “end of life” laws suppose to be only applied to terminally ill patients? If someone’s life can be saved, then I assert the definition of “terminal” is not met.

A second point, no less crucial: The home-states for the two patients were California and Oregon. If the patients had been residents of Texas and Florida, then perhaps their treatments would have been approved. Those of you who live outside of the 6 states that currently allow physician-assisted death may want to contemplate Callister’s experience if you should ever vote on the matter.

Kat West, national director of policy and programs at Compassion & Choices, which works to enact aid-in-dying legislation, says there is no evidence for Callister’s claim.

But Dr. Callister said it’s no coincidence the insurance agents stumped for assisted suicide over the phone.

“Now was this in writing? Of course not,” he said. “This was on the phone. They’re too smart to put that in writing.”

There have been several cases of insurance companies offering assisted suicide to patients in writing.

In 2008 Barbara Wagner received a letter from her state’s Medicaid program declining to cover a lung cancer drug that would have cost $4,000 per month. The Oregon Health Plan, however, did offer to pay for the 64-year-old to procure assisted suicide drugs, priced at $50.

The one bit of good news in these developments is that the young mother of four I mentioned in my opening was well enough in April to share her experience with Nevada’s representatives.

 

Ideally, all death would have little pain and much dignity. But that can never be legislated.

However, Dr. Callister does offer us a chilling insight of how the law can be seemingly manipulated to force treatable patients into the terminal category long before it is necessary to do so.