Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon

Case Is Not Unique

"Her case is hardly unique," said Michigan lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who defended Dr. Jack Kevorkian's crusade to legalize physician-assisted deaths.

"In the rest of the country insurance companies are making these decisions and are not paying for suicide," Fieger told ABCNews.com. "Involuntary choices are foisted on people all the time by virtue of denials."

"I am surprised there hasn't been a revolt in this country," he said. "It happens every day and people are helpless."

Indeed, one executive suffering from a rare and potentially fatal form of liver cancer is fighting his insurance company for coverage. Oncologists from a major teaching hospital in New York City have prescribed Sutent -- a medication that costs about $4,000 a month and could extend his life expectancy.

"Most of my objections are that some second rate guy on the staff of the insurance company is second-guessing one of the foremost authorities and trumping his judgment," said the 57-year-old executive, who didn't want his name used to protect his privacy.

"I am fortunate to have the financial resources and the ability to fight these people who would rather these you die," he told ABCNews.com.

Dr. Jonathan Groner, clinical professor of surgery at OSU College of Medicine and Public Health in Columbus, Ohio, said some patients may want to prolong their lives for a life-cycle event, like a birth or wedding.

"A course of chemo would not cure, but would subdue the cancer long enough to be meaningful," he told ABCNEWS.com. "There are many people with slow-growing but nonetheless metastatic cancer for whom death, while inevitable, is many years away."

"The problem with the Oregon plan is it sounds like administrators, not physicians, are making treatment decisions," he said. "And if a patient can get assisted death paid for but not cancer treatment, the choice is obvious."

Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society and author of "Final Exit," who helped write the Oregon Death With Dignity Law, said only about 30 people a year choose an assisted death, which must be approved by two doctors.

"It's purely optional and the patient and doctor can walk away from it," the 78-year-old told ABCNEWS.com. "It's not the mad rush our enemies predicted and for our residents it has worked out well."

His own wife, Jean, was diagnosed with fast-growing breast cancer in 1975 and asked him to help find drugs to help her die. At 42, she chose to take them and ended her life.

Humphry says the Oregon Health Plan's approach to coverage is sound.

"People cling to life and look for every sort of crazy cure to keep alive and usually they are better off not to have done it," he said.

Meanwhile Wagner has faith in her medicine, not assisted death. Now, at the request of her doctor, the pharmaceutical company Genentech is giving her Tarceva free of charge for one year.

"The doctor did say it would put a lid on the cancer and I am hopeful," she said.

Wagner's daughter Susie May says her mother is a fighter. "I think we all knew that this is her last hope," she said.

Even Wagner's ex-husband, Dennis Wagner of Springfield, has weighed in on the ethical dilemma.

"My reaction is pretty typical," he told ABCNews.com. "I am sick and tired of the dollar being the bottom line of everything. We need to put human life above the dollar."

Rana Senol of ABC News Research contributed to this report.

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