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

Editor’s note: Ginger Fairchild is a Registered Veterinary Nurse with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She lives in Burbank, California. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.


My husband, Matt Fairchild, a retired Army sergeant and Gulf War veteran, made the decision to seek medical assistance in dying – a doctor’s office available in 10 states and Washington, DC, to terminally ill, mentally capable patients who decide to self-ingest a prescribed drug to die peacefully.

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.

Surveys specific to medical assistance in dying are limited, but Gallup Poll 2020 found widespread support for patients with terminal 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 likened to medically 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.

Euthanasiawhich is illegal in the United States, is an intentional act by which another person, not the dying person, administers the lethal drug, according 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 should meet specific criteria to qualify 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.

Like cultural anthropologist Anita Hannig Put the, “Terminal patients who request assisted death are not suicidal. Absent a terminal prognosis, they have no independent desire to end their lives. 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 published peer-reviewed clinical criteria for physician-assisted dying, not physician-assisted suicide.

There are 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 ends their life prematurely 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 Friends all over the world.)

In 2022, however, medical assistance in dying is still 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 you must die with unnecessary suffering?

Most private insurance and publicly funded Medicaid plans California, Hawaii and Oregon cover most of the substantial cost of medical assistance in dying, including assisted dying medications and clinician appointments to determine if the person requesting it 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. .

One of the main reasons for this serious injustice is outdated federal law. In April 1997Congress passed the misnamed and pejorative law called the 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 first national law on medical assistance in dying, which was implemented six months later in October 1997. And although more states have passed medical assistance in dying laws in the decades since, ASFRA still 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 only to 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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