Sunday, October 1, 2017

Assisted suicide

I’m thankful I don’t live in a state like Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. When I was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and told I would probably be dead in four months, I went in an instant from living the American Dream with my wife and son to living a nightmare. In that moment of depression, I might have chosen to end my life.

After a seizure sent me to the hospital, the neurosurgeon told me I had a brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and that the tumor was inoperable. In fact, three different doctors told me there was nothing that they could do.

The news was overwhelmingly depressing. As a United States Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, I could have lost my life on a faraway battlefield serving my country. Thankfully I survived, but I had now received a death sentence at home.

With the support of my family, I chose to fight the cancer. I have had some great success with an experimental, cutting-edge treatment and am still alive three years after I was told I had only a few months to live.

Not everyone is so lucky to have the support I do. Since my diagnosis of terminal brain cancer my wife and I welcomed our second son into the world. I would have missed out on so much if I had been given – and had accepted – the option of assisted suicide.

Take, for example, Stephanie Packer, a California mother of four suffering from a serious case of scleroderma, a chronic connective tissue disease. She reported that her insurance company denied her coverage for chemotherapy treatment but would pay for her to kill herself.

Then there is Dr. Brian Callister, a Nevada physician who asked insurance medical directors to approve lifesaving, curative treatments for a patient in California and another in Oregon – two states that have legalized assisted suicide. Callister’s requests were denied, and the patients were offered coverage for suicide drugs instead.

People are starting to realize the threat that assisted suicide poses. Though an onslaught of new bills has been introduced, 23 states have rejected laws designed to legalize assisted suicide this year.

And states like Alabama and Ohio recently enacted laws to strengthen the prohibition of assisted suicide. Legislators across the nation of all political persuasions are recognizing that assisted suicide is bad policy and puts people like me at risk.

Some vulnerable populations, like people with disabilities and terminal illness, are at more immediate risk to be adversely affected by the legalization of assisted suicide. But the truth is, assisted suicide affects everyone.

Just ask my wife and our sons.

J.J. Hanson is a terminal brain cancer patient, U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and president of Patients Rights Action Fund.


  1. A terminally ill California woman says her insurance company denied her coverage for chemotherapy treatment but offered to pay for her to kill herself, shortly after California passed a law permitting physician-assisted suicide.

    Stephanie Packer, a wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma, said her insurance company initially indicated it would pay for her to switch to a different chemotherapy drug at the recommendation of her doctors.

    “For a while, five months or so, we’ve been trying to get me on a different chemotherapy drug for the infusions, because my doctor felt that it would be less toxic than some of the other drugs that we were going to be using,” Ms. Packer said in a video distributed by The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network on Monday.

    “And I was going back and forth, and finally I had heard back from them, and they said, ‘Yes, we’re going to get it covered, we just have to fix a couple of things,’” she continued.

    But shortly after California’s End of Life Option Act, which authorizes physicians to diagnose a life-ending dose of medication to patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, went into effect, Ms. Packer’s insurance company had a change of heart.

    “And when the law was passed, it was a week later I received a letter in the mail saying they were going to deny coverage for the chemotherapy that we were asking for,” Ms. Packer said.

    She said she called her insurance company to find out why her coverage had been denied. On the call, she also asked whether suicide pills were covered under her plan.

    “And she says, ‘Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication,’” Ms. Packer said.

    Ms. Packer said her doctors have appealed the insurance company’s decision twice, to no avail. She said the assisted-suicide law creates an incentive for insurance companies to deny terminally ill patients coverage.

    “As soon as this law was passed — and you see it everywhere when these laws are passed — patients fighting for a longer life end up getting denied treatment, because this will always be the cheapest option,” she said...

    Ms. Packer said her children motivate her to fight her illness.

    “I want to live for my kids,” she said. “I want them to see that dying is a part of life. Your end of life can be that opportunity to appreciate things that you didn’t appreciate before, to say things that you didn’t say before.”

  2. Opponents of physician-assisted suicide denounced a Nevada legislative proposal Wednesday to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients…

    Dr. Brian Callister, a Reno physician, described Senate Bill 261 as “giving physicians permission to kill.”…

    Callister and other physicians, including Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, scoffed at the notion a doctor can accurately predict how long someone will live.

    “We’re very poor at predicting life expectancy,” Callister said.
    Stephanie Packer, a 34-year-old California woman with multiple health issues, said she was diagnosed in 2005 with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints and organs.

    Another doctor then diagnosed her with pulmonary fibrosis and told her she had about three years to live.

    Over the years, she’s had teams of doctors, Packer said, and has taken numerous medications to treat her condition and pain.
    After California enacted assisted suicide, the mother of four said her insurance company informed her they would no longer cover her expensive medications. But she could obtain life-ending drugs for a co-payment of $1.20.

    “End of life care is the most expensive care of all,” Packer said.

    Dr. Peter Fenwick echoed other physician critics who said the bill would mandate they lie on death certificates by listing the cause of death as the underlying condition instead of an overdose of lethal drugs.

    “Killing somebody is murder,” Fenwick said. “Assisted suicide is just a nice word for killing.”

    Margaret Dore, a lawyer in Washington state, said the bill would have dire consequences. Besides encouraging people who may have years or decades yet to live to give up on life, it does not consider relatives or others who may pressure someone into voluntary suicide for nefarious reasons.

    “Assisting persons can have their own agendas: an adult child wanting an inheritance; a financial predator seeking financial gain; or a doctor wanting to hide malpractice,” she said in a statement.

    “The bill, if passed, will create he perfect crime,” she said.

  3. Stephanie Packer has been diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma and has been on chemotherapy for some time, covered by her insurance. Somewhere along the line, her doctor wanted to change her medication to something they felt would be “less toxic.” After about 5 months of discussion with her insurance company, Packer says they verbally approved her change in medication. Some time after that, (and coincidentally soon after the assisted suicide law was passed in CA) she received a letter from her insurer stating the new medication would not be covered. Packer then called her insurance company to find out why it Upon doing some more research, we find that Stephanie Packer has been an anti-assisted suicide activist since at least 2015, when she advocated against proposed California law legalizing it. What a coincidence that her insurance company would “offer to pay for her to kill herself.” Even back then she felt that “pressure to end one’s life could become a dangerous norm, especially in a world defined by high-cost medical care.” And then it happened to her, just as she predicted. Crazy, right?

    Yeah. Crazy.

    Back in 2015, Packer is quoted as saying, “God put us here on earth and only God can take us away and he has a master plan for us and if suffering is part of that plan, which it seems to be, then so be it… Death can be beautiful and peaceful. It’s a natural process that should be allowed to happen on its own.” Well that’s fine for you, Stephanie, but not everyone shares your belief system or your desire to take the freedom of choice away from fellow citizens.(continued)

  4. (continued)I will say this, though. As someone who has seen a handful of friends and relatives suffer and ultimately die from terminal illnesses, I empathize with Packer’s condition. I imagine her daily struggles are difficult and I feel for her and her family. And the idea that an insurance company gets to decide what’s best for a patient’s care (one course of treatment over another) is disgusting to me. But using that situation, twisting the facts, and misleading people in order to further your anti-choice agenda is equally as disgusting. Shame on you, Stephanie, for attempting to prevent those suffering more than you from ending their lives on their own terms, just because you think God wants them to suffer.