Assisted suicide and euthanasia take patients, doctors and society at large into uncharted territory. But in the American state of Washington, they are being led down a familiar road: allegations of price gouging.
According to an article in JAMA Oncology, the price of one lethal drug for taking advantage of the state's 2008 Death With Dignity Act increased roughly US$2,500 over seven years – about 640%.
Secobarbital, which is sold under the name Seconal, made up nearly half of the prescriptions. Its average cost increased from $388 in 2010 to $2,878 in 2016.
"Honestly, I really think it’s just pharmaceutical companies jacking up the price of the drug," lead author Veena Shankaran, of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told Reuters. "I don’t see another explanation for it."
“In the context of financial toxicity among patients with cancer, the marked increase in the price of secobarbital represents a shocking financial blow to terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives with dignity,” she wrote in the journal.
The drug was first developed in 1929 and has been off-patent for years, but the only manufacturer in the United States is Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Its use for assisted suicide is not covered under insurance plans, so patients have to pay for the full sticker price.
In the 19th Century a statue of Tanonius Marcellinus, consul of Campania (now the region around Naples) was unearthed in the town of Benevento. It bore a remarkable inscription, one which may be unique in the history of Western Civilization. It described him as a “most worthy patron, on account of the good deeds which rescued the population from endless boredom”.
Boredom -- taedium in Latin -- will soon be a reason to be euthanised in the Netherlands, as we report below. Of course it won’t be a spur of the moment decision. There will be a bit of boring paperwork to fill out first and some boring interviews to be endured, but in the end you get your needle.
It’s hard to understand why Dutch politicians think that this is a good thing. The worthy consul Tanonius Marcellinus was memorialized for rescuing his people from boredom with good deeds, not with lethal injections. Isn’t that the proper role of governments: to foster a society in which people feel glad to be alive?
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