Opinion: Medical assistance in dying has been a blessing for my husband. But a federal law makes it inaccessible for millions of Americans.

Matt passed away on January 21, and while I miss him more than words can describe, I’m grateful he was given the opportunity to end his suffering. Matt loved life, and at only 52 he didn’t want to die. But after going through nearly a decade of chemotherapy, radiation, hospitalizations and surgeries in a valiant attempt to cure the skin cancer that had spread to her brain, bones and lymph nodes, it was a blessing to give him the opportunity to be home. and take the medication to pass serenely.

Given the difference physician-assisted dying has made to Matt and the unnecessary suffering it has spared him, I hope this option will be available to others as well. Unfortunately, for millions of Americans who depend on federally funded medical insurance and facilities, medical assistance in dying is financially inaccessible, in large part because of a decades-old law that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for this end of life. choice of care.

Polling specific to medical assistance in dying is limited, but a 2020 Gallup poll found broad support for patients with life-threatening illnesses to have access to end-of-life care options. Legislation allowing medical assistance in dying was also introduced in at least a dozen states in the 2021-2022 legislative session alone. Despite this, medical assistance in dying remains a largely misunderstood practice.
It is often equated with physician-assisted suicide, suicide, and euthanasia, terms that the media often misuse and opponents deliberately use to describe it. As a registered veterinary nurse and the spouse of a loved one who has had medical assistance in dying, this equivalence bothers me.
Euthanasia, which is illegal in the United States, is an intentional act by which another person, not the dying person, administers the lethal drug, according to the American Medical Association. In contrast, medical assistance in dying requires patients to be able to take the medication themselves. This stipulation keeps them in control of the process so they can always change their minds and decide not to take the drug.
It is also important to emphasize that patients must meet specific criteria to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. State laws also establish several safeguards, such as requiring doctors to tell people about other end-of-life care options and requiring doctors to offer patients the option to cancel their requests. In Matt’s case, he had to meet 13 different requirements in California before medical assistance in dying was possible.
As cultural anthropologist Anita Hannig has said, “Terminal patients who seek assisted death are not suicidal. Absent a terminal prognosis, they have no independent desire to end their lives. days.” Many patients who seek medical assistance in dying feel deeply offended when the medical practice is labeled as suicide or assisted suicide. The Journal of Palliative Medicine has published peer-reviewed clinical criteria for physician-assisted dying, not physician-assisted suicide.
There is no comparison between a mentally capable, terminally ill person who is going to die no matter what, and just wants to die peacefully, with loved ones by their bedside, and a mentally distraught person who prematurely ends her life by suicide, usually alone. , often violently. (A worldwide directory of resources and international hotlines is provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. You can also turn to Befrienders Worldwide.)
In 2022, however, medical assistance in dying is still only available to just over one in five Americans, those living in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey , New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington State or Washington, D.C. Why should a state border or zip code determine whether you can die peacefully or should die with unnecessary suffering? ?
Most private insurance and state-funded Medicaid plans in California, Hawaii, and Oregon cover most of the substantial cost of medical assistance in dying, including assisted dying drugs and appointments. visit the clinician to determine if the person making the request is eligible.

But for millions of Americans who depend on federally funded insurance (eg, Medicare, Tricare) and medical institutions (eg, veterans facilities), medical assistance in dying is inaccessible. .

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One of the main reasons for this grave injustice is outdated federal law. In April 1997, Congress passed the misnamed and derogatory Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act (ASFRA), which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for end-of-life care. ASFRA was a preemptive strike against Oregon’s first medical assistance in dying law, which was implemented six months later in October 1997. stands. The restriction established in this federal law meant that my husband, Matt, was not eligible for medical assistance in dying coverage through his VA healthcare.

Luckily for Matt, generous friends helped pay our personal expenses of $2,100 for medical assistance in dying, including $1,400 for the doctor visits needed to ensure Matt met the strict criteria in several steps in the law and $700 for death aid drugs.

But not everyone is so lucky, and medical assistance in dying shouldn’t be available to just a select few. Congress has an ethical and moral duty to right this injustice — especially for terminally ill veterans who risked their lives to defend our country and deserve a peaceful death — by repealing the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act.

Having medical assistance in dying for Matt saved him a lot more suffering. He had already suffered so much.

Matt’s amazing friend, Jason Vazquez, an ICU medic who served with him in the Gulf War, aptly told him towards the end of his life, “Matt, there’s just something something better than that.”

Letting someone suffer, like Matt did, is morally wrong. Having seen Matt’s suffering first hand, I think having someone continue to live in such a tortured state is also ethically wrong, and if there is an option to alleviate that suffering, that’s what the person deserves.

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