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The Business Case for Managed Death

Supporters and critics of physician-assisted suicide agree on at least one thing: terminally ill patients who take an early exit save the health care system money.

Nationally, legal euthanasia for terminally ill patients could cut American health-care costs by $627 million per year (less than one-tenth of 1 percent of total expenditures), according to a New England Journal of Medicine article by doctors Ezekiel Emanuel and Margaret Battin, who each come down on opposite sides of the ethical argument over assisted suicide.

But could the business case for managed death push health insurance companies to pressure their customers into taking their own lives before they’re ready?

That’s one of the questions in a debate raging in Washington State right now, as voters there are set to decide on a ballot measure that would allow doctors to prescribe their terminally ill patients lethal doses of drugs on request.

Critics of the measure point to the story of Barbara Wagner, a cancer patient in neighboring Oregon, whose insurance company denied her request for coverage of potentially life-saving drugs, and instead offered her money for lethal drugs. Oregon is currently the only state where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

Does the legalization of physician-assisted suicide incentivize early death?