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The Barbara Wagner Story

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We have to sometimes remind ourselves that many folks inclined to oppose physician assisted suicide don’t necessarily know the prime examples of the tragic consequences we are so forcefully trying to raise.

One that we’ve brought up in the past is the danger of financial concerns stepping in front of the needs of patients.  No example highlights this risk more starkly than that of the late Barbara Wagner. 

An Oregon resident, on the frontlines of the first legalization of assisted suicide in the country, Ms. Wagner battled lung cancer – at first, she was successful.  The cancer returned however, and it was stronger, thus putting her in grave danger.  Ms. Wagner was ready to fight, but the state of Oregon was not ready to fight with her.

The Oregon Health Plan, Ms. Wagner’s insurer, told Ms. Wagner in a letter that they would be declining coverage of treatments that would have helped her fight the cancer.  Instead, the Oregon Health Plan suggested physician assisted suicide – and that they were fully willing to cover the $50 cost of those pills.

Ms. Wagner was ultimately offered a free year of active treatment from the manufacturer of the drugs that Oregon would not cover and unfortunately passed away after a hard-fought battle against the terrible scourge of cancer.

Barbara Wagner got the second chance to fight, but that was more luck than intent.  The system that considered physician assisted suicide as a viable option was callously indifferent to Barbara’s needs.

The president of Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), the foremost proponents of assisted suicide legalization, stated that Oregon “learned to be a little bit more tactful” after the case of Barbara Wagner became national news.  That’s hardly comforting. 

We don’t think a lack of “tact” is the issue; the story of Barbara Wagner is the embodiment of how assisted suicide will cause miscarriages of medical justice.  Everyone considering assisted suicide legislation needs to be aware of these very real dangers.

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