No, an Insurance Company Did Not Offer Assisted Suicide in Place of Chemotherapy

On Friday, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed to find that two of my FB friends, both atheists, had shared a link from Washington Times referring to a terminally ill patient’s feud with her insurance agency.  The story purported that Stephanie Packer from California was prescribed a chemotherapy drug by her doctor and was refused coverage by her insurance company.  Instead, the insurance company “offered to pay for her to kill herself.”

This is disturbing on many fronts, the first of which being that two secular activists in my FB circles have shared a story from a conservative propaganda sheet like the Washington Times.  Immediately, my defenses were up as I clicked the link and read the story.  Next, I wanted to find out if this really happened, so I spent about 30 seconds googling it.  My unsurprising verdict: not exactly.

The first clue there’s an issue with this story is that only right-wing propaganda sites and religious news outlets have covered it. Why did they cover it? Because they’re decidedly anti-assisted suicide, mostly due to religious convictions dealing with end of life, and this story plays right into their wheelhouse.  In the Washington Times piece, the author tries to convey that the new assisted suicide laws being passed in several states “create an incentive for insurance companies to deny terminally ill patients coverage.”

I’ve read all of the articles I could find on this case and patched together what appears to be the truth, while cutting out the editorializing, grandstanding, and assumptions.  Here’s what seems to have happened here:

Image credit: YouTube
Image credit: YouTube

Stephanie Packer has been diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma and has been on chemotherapy for some time, covered by her insurance.  Somewhere along the line, her doctor wanted to change her medication to something they felt would be “less toxic.”  After about 5 months of discussion with her insurance company, Packer says they verbally approved her change in medication.  Some time after that, (and coincidentally soon after the assisted suicide law was passed in CA) she received a letter from her insurer stating the new medication would not be covered.  Packer then called her insurance company to find out why it wasn’t covered, and in none of the articles, Packer actually tells us why.  You’d think that information would be useful in a news article about coverage denial.  Instead, while on the phone with her insurer, she asked them if they cover the assisted suicide drugs and they said yes.  The insurance company did not “offer to pay for her to kill herself.”

Upon doing some more research, we find that Stephanie Packer has been an anti-assisted suicide activist since at least 2015, when she advocated against proposed California law legalizing it.  What a coincidence that her insurance company would “offer to pay for her to kill herself.”  Even back then she felt that “pressure to end one’s life could become a dangerous norm, especially in a world defined by high-cost medical care.”  And then it happened to her, just as she predicted. Crazy, right?

Yeah. Crazy.

Back in 2015, Packer is quoted as saying, “God put us here on earth and only God can take us away and he has a master plan for us and if suffering is part of that plan, which it seems to be, then so be it… Death can be beautiful and peaceful. It’s a natural process that should be allowed to happen on its own.” Well that’s fine for you, Stephanie, but not everyone shares your belief system or your desire to take the freedom of choice away from fellow citizens.

I will say this, though. As someone who has seen a handful of friends and relatives suffer and ultimately die from terminal illnesses, I empathize with Packer’s condition. I imagine her daily struggles are difficult and I feel for her and her family.  And the idea that an insurance company gets to decide what’s best for a patient’s care (one course of treatment over another) is disgusting to me.  But using that situation, twisting the facts, and misleading people in order to further your anti-choice agenda is equally as disgusting.  Shame on you, Stephanie, for attempting to prevent those suffering more than you from ending their lives on their own terms, just because you think God wants them to suffer.

We may be living in the Information Age, but it’s also the mis-Information Age.  It’s so easy to take things like this at face value and share them among our circles, creating false outrage and ultimately affecting public opinion.  It’s items like this that drive me as leader of Young Skeptics.  We need to apply critical thinking in all aspects of our lives if we want progress.  Perpetuation of misinformation will be our undoing.


Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

22 thoughts on “No, an Insurance Company Did Not Offer Assisted Suicide in Place of Chemotherapy

  1. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t make it good. Arsenic, zika virus, and rattlesnakes are all natural. It may be natural to die slowly and painfully, but if I could make it quickly and painlessly, I’m all for it.

    1. I don’t believe anybody has the right to kill themselves. God put us on this earth and only God should take us out when our time is done. It is not up to us.

        1. Hey idiot, because the Commandment says, “thou shalt not murder” God in Heaven is glad when we love life because it is a gift from Him.

          1. That’s cute. But first, it doesn’t answer my question. If getting sick and dying is god’s plan, then why is it ok to go against its plan and get medical treatment? Second, I wasn’t asking you. Third, watch yourself. You’re close to being blocked. Don’t forget whose site this is. Hint: it’s not yours.

          2. Our laws and policies are not based on those commandments. We don’t condemn kids to death for dishonoring their parents

  2. Insurance companies often switch their formularies. It happened to me twice in as many years.
    What she should have been asking the insurer, instead of do they cover assisted suicide drugs, is what they recommend instead. For all the relevance her question had, she may as well have been asking if they cover radical prostatectomy, because she didn’t need either one.

  3. Death is not beautiful. It is not a “natural part of life”. Only someone who never watched a friend or family member die in front of them would say such Hallmark garbage.
    Death is not part of life. It is the disgusting interruption of it.

  4. There is nothing wrong with death per say, people should just not be forced there by greedy, Obama colluding insurance companies. I have recently watched so many people who spent their lives working and paying large premiums to insurance companies for most of their lives (85-90 years), while working hard to stay healthy and in good shape, only to have the insurance companies try to deny coverage of drugs, even though the doctor has mandated it, in their last 1-2 years of life. This is the true Obama/Clinton legacy.

    1. … and paying large premiums to insurance companies for most of their lives (85-90 years),

      1. If they are that old they should be on Medicare which kicks in at 65.
      2. Drugs are covered under Part D which is administered by insurance companies.
      3. And who legislated Medicare Part D?

      When was part D added to Medicare?
      Medicare did not cover outpatient prescription drugs until January 1, 2006, when it implemented the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, authorized by Congress under the “Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.”

      George Bush!!!
      You are an idiot.

  5. ” It’s a natural process that should be allowed to happen on its own.”
    Then why are you taking drugs to prolong your life? What if god is really pissed that you haven’t died yet like he wanted you to? I mean, he gave you the cancer, why are you trying to get rid of the gift he gave you? Just let the cancer happen on it’s own.

  6. They latch onto the wrong thing as being wrong. Assisted suicide is death with dignity. It’s the insurance companies that are the problem. I’m currently battling my insurance about a new med that helps my migraines which often manifest with severe sinus issues, this med helps prevent the headaches and the sinus pain and the insurance won’t cover it.

  7. This correctly sums up the problem with what passes for health care access in the USA: “After about 5 months of discussion with her insurance company, Packer says they verbally approved her change in medication.” That’s right— it is international corporations that dictate health care, and not physicians.

    1. It’s also a consequence of treating health care as a profit making enterprise.
      The less money the insurance companies pay out, the more profit they make. It’s a built in incentive to stall, beat around the bush, and lose the paperwork.

  8. Sarah Palin is using this story to support her “death panels” claim. There’s simply no evidence this has anything to do with Obamacare. Insurance companies have been doing this sort of thing for decades. In fact, before Obamacare, Packer could have had her coverage dropped after diagnosis, denying her not just the controversial medication, but all the other meds she takes to relieve pain, etc.
    Also worth noting is that Packer’s insurance company has relented and is now covering the medication, proving that if the insurance companies are publicly shamed, they sometimes do the right thing, not out of concern for the patient, but simply not to lose clients.

  9. “…and he has a master plan for us and if suffering is part of that plan, which it seems to be, then so be it…”

    Is she saying that those who choose to end their suffering are violating Yahweh’s plan? If he’s really perfect and all powerful, then his plan can’t be anything but perfect, and the notion of violating it would be a contradiction in terms.

  10. You don’t like abortion, don’t get one.
    You don’t approve of assisted suicide, don’t do it.


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