OREGON: Taxes May Subsidize Assisted Suicide
In a 10-1 vote, Oregon's Health Services Commission yesterday agreed that "taxpayers should help pay for the doctor-assisted suicides of terminally ill poor people." The commission's decision follows the approval last fall of a ballot initiative that made Oregon the first state to approve a physician-assisted suicide law. Yesterday, the commission, which oversees the Oregon Health Plan, "decided ... that delivering lethal doses of prescription drugs should be covered as a 'medical service' for the state's 270,000 low-income residents." "The most discriminatory thing would be not to give this choice to the poor," said Ellen Lowe, a member of the commission. Commission Chair Alan Bates "said his experience as a family physician convinced him the law was a compassionate policy that eases people's suffering." He said, "Physician-assisted suicide has been going on for years. In Oregon, we're just bringing it out in the open." The commission's decision "still must withstand federal scrutiny because Medicaid receives federal matching funds." The policy is tentatively scheduled to take effect in about two months.
As expected, many groups weighed in on the opposing side of the issue. Oregon Catholic Conference spokesperson Bob Castagna said, "There would be no more tragic discrimination against the poor than to allow them to be killed. That is the ultimate discrimination." Doctors argued that some poor persons would choose death as the most cost-effective way out of a medical crisis. "Ellie Jenny, representing a group called Not Dead Yet, said state residents may have voted for the law, but they never voted for paying for it." She said, "There was never any mention in any of the election rhetoric that this would be funded by taxpayer money" (Cain, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27).