Ore. offers woman death, not cancer drugs

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EUGENE, Ore. — Barbara Wagner discovered recently her state would not cover chemotherapy for her lung cancer but would underwrite her death by physician-assisted suicide.

Wagner, 64, received notice in May that the Oregon Health Plan, which provides health-care coverage for about 380,000 low-income residents monthly, had refused to cover the drug prescribed by her oncologist when her cancer recurred, according to The Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard. She was told, however, it would cover assisted suicide as part of palliative, or pain relief, care.

The notification the health plan would cover assisted suicide especially disturbed Wagner. "To say to someone, we'll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it's cruel," she told The Register-Guard. "I get angry. Who do they think they are?"

Bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said this should come as no shock in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997.

"We have been warning for years that this was a possibility in Oregon," Smith wrote on the weblog Bioethics.com. "Medicaid is rationed, meaning that some treatments are not covered. But assisted suicide is always covered.

"This isn't the first time this has happened either. A few years ago a patient who needed a double organ transplant was denied the treatment but would have been eligible for state-financed assisted suicide."

Fortunately for Wagner, another institution came to her aid. A representative of the pharmaceutical firm that markets the drug she had been prescribed called June 2 to tell her the company would provide it without charge, The Register-Guard reported.

BP