Recently, a man in the UK, Alex Baxter, killed himself after being denied a new, likely effective (as in, life-prolonging and quality-enhancing) but very expensive cancer drug, Sutent. In his case, it was the insurer denying him the drug, while his doctor had prescribed it and even appealed the decision not to provide the money. In the Netherlands, a recent situation with a woman being denied Sutent, was different: apparently – I haven’t researched it, but that’s what I conclude from the news report – Sutent has not yet been approved here because it is still in the trial phase. The woman here was a participant in a Sutent trial until, for an unrelated medical reason, she had to be deleted from the study group. Since the woman is no longer a trial subject, it would be illegal for the hospital to provide her the drug.
In some ways, the UK case is worse for the pro-life cause than ours. After all, with a drug still in the trial phase, doctors and our equivalent of the FDA may have genuine safety concerns. The woman is not being denied the drug because her life isn’t worth living monetarily, as is likely the case with the UK man. Rather, there is simply a ruling that says that the hospital would be in violation if they provided the drug. Doesn’t matter that this particular woman did not have any side effects when still participating in the study; what matters is that the drug is still in the trial phase and, therefore, what if she *does* get serious side effects?
Of course, with a terminally ill patient, you would say, especially if you were a pro-lifer: “Whatever, without the drug she will die anyway.” That is how the woman reasoned indeed: when the news report was released, she was given a prognosis of only a couple of weeks if she didn’t get Sutent, so I’m not even sure whether she’s still alive. But this is not how the FDA equivalent reasons, and understandably so. After all, several months ago there was a big outcry in the Netherlands over a therapy for pancreatic cancer, still in the trial period, from which quite a few study subjects had died. This is the risk if you participate in human trials of unapproved drugs, of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an extremely sad occurrence. Consequently, this particular woman may think that anything is better than certain death within weeks, but the FDA equivalent has to stick to the rules. After all, if they were going to make exceptions, why not in other cases? This is a slippery slope argument, and I don’t tend to buy into those, but if reasoning like this woman’s becomes the basis for legislation, this would be rather easy. Pretty soon, this reasoning would be a license to brutally experiment on terminally ill patients, because “without the drugs they will die anyway”.
The UK case is different, and more directly relevant to the pro-life community. Again, I have not researched the case thoroughly, so maybe it is more complex than what we’re being told through the (mostly pro-life) media that I get my information on this subject from. The way the case is being reported in the pro-life media, it’s a very straightforward case of being “too expensive to live”. Presumably, Baxter was denied coverage for the treatment because its costs outweighed its expected benefits. Some pro-euthanasia people respond to Baxter’s suicide by claiming that euthanasia should have been legal in the UK so that a doctor could’ve assisted him. Of course, if the healthcare system were going to spend money on having a doctor assist Baxter in his suicide, why not spend money into providing him with a likely helpful treatment? The only logical argument – and not one I agree with, of course -, is that assisted suicide is cheaper than possibly two years (allegedly the maximum time life can be prolonged with Sutent) of expensieve medical treatment.