Remember the cancer-stricken Lockerbie bomber who was sent home to Libya in 2009 because his Scottish doctors said he had only three months to live? He just died, almost three years later. The National Review article linked below uses his case and the case of a Massachusetts disability rights activist who was diagnosed with “terminal” ALS 50 years ago, as examples of the unreliability of “terminal” diagnoses. We should not forget that the terrorist and possibly the ALS sufferer would have been eligible for assisted suicide had it been legalized by the legislation recently rejected in Vermont.
Scotland rations health care, and the article points out that the terrorist’s three months prognosis would probably have been accurate had he continued to live in Scotland. Ironically, though we think of Libya as a backward country, it was the Libyan medical system that gave him almost three more years of life, by treating him with chemotherapy that was not available to him under Scotland’s health plan,
In the US, the state of Oregon is unique in rationing health care, annually creating a prioritized list of covered services. Oregon does not cover chemotherapy unless the patient has a greater than 5% chance of surviving at least five years. The Libyan terrorist would not have qualified for chemotherapy there any more than he did in Scotland. Oregon is different from Scotland, however, in that health care rationing there exists alongside assisted suicide and that, in at least two cases, people have received letters denying coverage for chemotherapy they and their doctors wanted and listing assisted suicide among the covered alternatives. The combination of rationed care and assisted suicide would have created a dangerous situation, not just for the “terminally ill” terrorist but also for the “terminally ill” ALS sufferer.
Vermont is in the process of moving to a single payer health care system, which every Vermonter, rich or poor, will be forced to join. One of its main stated goals is containing health care costs. Choices about covered and non covered health care services will have to be made. We may not feel much sympathy for the terrorist, but we need to learn the lessons of his case, remembering that they would also apply to the innocent ALS sufferer. Do we really want a person who would have lived three years, or fifty, to be denied the care that would have given him those years, while simultaneously being offered assisted suicide?