'Death Panels' in Oregon?

Perhaps former Governor Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) was referring to the tragic predicament of Barbara Wagner of Oregon when she wrote how she feared for the fate of her Down Syndrome son under "Obama's 'Death Panels.' "

Susan Donaldson James of ABC News reports on the letter Ms. Wagner received from the Oregon Health Plan in response to a $4000 a month drug her doctor prescribed after her lung cancer, long in remission, returned..

the insurance company refused to pay.

What the Oregon Health Plan did agree to cover, however, were drugs for a physician-assisted death. Those drugs would cost about $50.

Hmmmm, let's do the math. Yep, a one time prescription of $50 sure is cheaper than $4000 a month for who knows how many months to keep a 64 year old woman alive. So the Oregon "Death Panel" graciously offered suicide pills. Or doctor assisted murder.

But Ms. Wagner had an understandably different reaction.

"It was horrible," Wagner told ABCNews.com. "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."

Ah, but Ms. Wagner wanted to live. And she didn't care what the Oregon "Death Panel" - uhm, Oregon Health Plan decided. And her situation is not unique.

But a 1998 study from Georgetown University's Center for Clinical Bioethics 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.

So Sarah Palin's "death panels" aren't as quite off the mark as those afflicted by Palin Derangement Syndrome and mocking her seem to think. Apparently they're called Centers for Bioethics and people are sincerely grappling with these issues. The issues are deep, the problems are complex. And alas there are no easy answers. But let's keep the Barbara Wagners in mind. For one day, a loved one may be in the same predicament. Or you.


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