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Watch: Insurance Companies Recommending Assisted Suicide for Terminally Ill Patients

DR. SUSAN BERRY

A newly released video reveals that health insurance companies, seeking to keep their costs down, now can include assisted suicide as a viable option for the terminally ill when these patients live in a state that has legalized assisted suicide.

On Wednesday, patient advocacy group Patients’ Rights Action Fund (PRAF) is releasing the video in which a physician discusses he is now encountering insurance companies that refuse to reimburse life-saving treatments for terminally ill patients – who live in states in which assisted suicide has become legal – because they can now recommend less expensive lethal drugs for ending the patients’ lives.

The new video features Dr. Brian Callister of Reno, Nevada, who explains that two of his terminally ill patients from neighboring states required life-saving treatments. The internal medicine specialist says that both of his patients live in states in which assisted suicide is legal, and both were denied the therapies they needed to continue to fight their illnesses. The insurance companies instead, however, offered to cover the costs of assisted suicide drugs.

Callister, who notes that neither he nor his patients had expressed interest in assisted suicide to the insurance company, says the fact the practice was legal in those states limited the choices for his patients.

“Quite frankly, I was stunned,” Callister says in the video. “It’s a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs and kill you than it is to provide you life sustaining therapy.”

“I chose to become a physician because I wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives,” he asserts.

“With our broken health care system, assisted suicide legislation does not increase the individuals’ autonomy they already have under current law, but rather makes killing oneself the only ‘treatment’ option to which everyone has equal access,” explains J.J. Hanson, president of PRAF and a terminal brain cancer patient, in a statement.

“After a state adopts pro-assisted suicide legislation, insurance companies can deny coverage to patients seeking life saving treatment. It comes down to resources for the insurance companies and government insurance providers,” adds Hanson, a former United States Marine.

Battles continue to wage in various states over the legalization of assisted suicide.

New York State’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday in a case filed by terminally ill individuals who want to receive lethal drugs from their physicians to end their lives.

“We don’t view this as suicide,” said attorney Edwin Schallert, who represents a group known as End of Life Choices New York, reports the Associated Press. “It’s a medically and ethically appropriate treatment … these are people who wanted to live.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, however, said his office is defending current state law that makes “promoting a suicide attempt” a felony, reports Newsday.

Like abortion proponents, however, assisted suicide advocates see the issue as one of privacy and freedom over one’s body.

“This is a case about mentally competent, terminally ill New Yorkers,” said Kathryn Tucker, executive director of End of Life Choices New York. “They are not making a choice between continuing to live or die. It’s really a privacy-liberty-autonomy argument first.”

In an op-ed at the Buffalo News, Dr. Harvey Berman, who teaches pharmacology and medical ethics at the University at Buffalo, observes End of Life activists claim physician-assisted suicide deaths will always remain few in number. Berman adds they dismiss “slippery slope arguments” as they cite regulations and protections for the vulnerable disabled and elderly.

“This assertion ignores data from Oregon showing that the number of deaths from physician-assisted suicide has grown more than eight-fold since it was introduced in 1997,” Berman writes, continuing:

Such growth in assisted suicide prompts a related concern of “suicide contagion,” the idea that assistance with death comes to be seen as a medically ordinary and routine therapeutic option.

Over the past 30 years, since it was legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium, euthanasia has devolved from assisted death only for the terminally ill to include those who are chronically ill, from those with physical illness to those with psychological illness, from adults to children, and ultimately to those who are simply “tired of living.”

“The bizarre notion of a right to die – a right that everyone will eventually exercise – will be seen by tired, confused and pressured patients as a ‘duty to die,’” Berman concludes.

End of Life Choices New York is opposed by the New York State Catholic Conference and “Not Dead Yet,” a group of disability activists.

As Newsday reports, the Catholic Conference refers to assisted suicide advocates’ preference for the phrase “aid in dying” – as opposed to “assisted suicide” – as “verbal engineering.”

Colorado, Washington, Vermont, California, Oregon, Montana, and the District of Columbia have passed assisted suicide laws that allow patients to request lethal drugs from their physicians.

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, however, could prohibit Washington, D.C. from using its taxpayer dollars to implement the assisted suicide law, if passed by the House and Senate.

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