Will California’s end-of-life law push lethal drugs over costlier care?

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Will California’s end-of-life law push lethal drugs over costlier care?

Terminally ill cancer patient Barbara Wagner’s doctor wrote a prescription several years ago intended to extend her life a few extra months. But Oregon’s government-run healthcare program declined to pay for the pricey drug, saying the projected odds of the medicine’s keeping her alive were too low.

Adding to the distress of the rejection, Wagner later complained publicly, was what else was included in the denial letter she received. The state listed doctor-aided death as one of the treatment options that would be completely covered.

“[They] 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,” Wagner said in a television interview at the time.

Wagner’s case became a flash point of the medical ethics debate over helping the terminally ill end their lives in Oregon, the state that pioneered the practice in the U.S. nearly two decades ago.

Now, as California pushes ahead with a similar initiative, experts say state officials here could face their own ethical controversies as they weigh details such as who should pay for life-ending care, particularly for patients in government-backed health plans.

Covering lethal prescribed drugs for such patients without also offering to pay for other far more costly end-of-life treatments could inadvertently pressure people into choosing the cheaper option, said Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a UC Irvine psychiatrist and director of the university’s medical ethics program.

“It’s certainly a cost-saver,” he said.

More fromĀ The Los Angeles Times

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