ALS patient chooses suicide in Canada's single-payer paradise

ALS patient chooses suicide in Canada's single-payer paradise
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Nothing says pulling out all the stops for socialized health care than Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.) using his heart attack scare to push the idea. "None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us,” he tweeted. “And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!"

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Mass.) has used the Democratic presidential debates to tell the story of Ady Barkan, a single-payer activist with ALS who has testified before Congress, and who recently told ABC News’s “Nightline,” “Medicare for all means that we get high quality comprehensive health care through Medicare, with no copays or deductibles or premiums.”

Except, sadly, it doesn’t.

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Barkan’s story is inspiring and compelling. But just north of the border, a Canadian ALS patient opted for physician-assisted suicide after giving up his fight against not only ALS, but also Canada’s socialized health care that refused to cover the treatment he needed.

On Aug. 6, 41-year-old Sean Tagert died after Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), a single-payer health provider in British Columbia, denied giving him the 24-hour in-home health care his doctor said he needed.

VCH offered Tagert 15.5 hours of home care but not the 24-hour care he needed, reported the CBC. He was later offered as much as 20 hours per day, but his doctor said that was still not enough. 

If Tagert wanted 24-hour care, he would have been required to pay $7,905 a month for the remaining hours, a cost he could not afford.  In fact, just days before Tagert’s death, VCH officials arrived abruptly at his home to announce a further cut in funding for his care. 

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” said Tagert’s family in a public statement. “While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home ... gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care." 

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Sadly, Tagert’s situation debunks the claims made by Sanders and Warren about single-payer systems. Patients receive neither high quality nor comprehensive health care, nor are they alleviated from having to self-pay for the treatment they need. 

Even the name “Medicare for all” is just a marketing tool to garner public support; the existing Medicare program that most seniors like and want to keep would be eliminated to make room for a one-size-fits-all government program. 

Furthermore, although single-payer proponents won’t say it, euthanasia is a grim reality of socialized medicine. In 2018, about 3,000, or just over 1 percent of deaths in Canada were medically assisted.

Advertising for Canada’s MAiD service (Medical Assistance in Dying) is ghoulishly displayed in emergency rooms. The "Canadian Medical Association Journal" has even done studies on how physician-assisted suicide could reduce annual health care spending across Canada by almost $138.8 million. So while the VCH denied Tagert’s funding for care in the last days of his life, there apparently were no barriers to funding his death.

To some, suicide might even be considered the moral thing to do, since every dollar a terminal patient uses is a dollar other patients cannot have.

Rationing of care is not only common; it’s necessary to balance the books in single-payer systems. The government budgets a certain amount of spending for health care, and no more. Inserting itself into the doctor-patient relationship, government dictates what treatments are allowed, based in part on cost. And patients pay for their health care with their most precious resource — time spent in waiting lines.

According to the Fraser Institute, the average wait time in Canada for medical treatment is 20 weeks, and only 15 percent of those who would benefit from palliative care are able to receive it in the last year of their life. 

Although Democratic presidential candidates and other single-payer proponents use patients like Ady Barkan as convenient symbols for why we need single-payer, they dismiss, deny, and ignore its harsh realities, especially socialized medicine’s most innocent victims — like Sean Tagert. 

Best and most sincere wishes to Ady Barkan and his family as he continues to fight this horrific disease. But under a single-payer Medicare for All system, patients, especially those with terminal illnesses, sadly do not face a better outcome. 

Erin Humiston is director of policy communication at the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI).