Murder-suicide questions the ethics of health care

The fallout of the health care debate

Over the last few years, Terry Daniel Sr. and Lisa Haynes seemed happy to their friends. They filled their social interactions with running jokes and banter between neighbors.

The fallout of the health care debate

Over the last few years, Terry Daniel Sr. and Lisa Haynes seemed happy to their friends. They filled their social interactions with running jokes and banter between neighbors.

What they did not reveal to others was their deteriorating health and serious financial problems. Around 10 months ago, financial issues finally started overwhelming the couple.

Haynes, 55, who had been diagnosed with epilepsy, began having out of control seizures, so violent that she injured her neck and had to spend time in a rehabilitation facility. Daniel, 60, began using a walker full time in result of a lifetime of hard labor.

This was hard on both of them as Daniel acted as Haynes’ caregiver. In an act of desperation, the couple decided to plan a final exit together.

They made a recording to explain their reasons. Then, on Feb. 12, Daniel shot Haynes and then himself. As planned, Haynes passed quickly in the couple’s Milwaukie home, but Daniel survived the gunshot wound to the chest. While he succeeded in ending the suffering of his partner, he brought a large legal, ethical and social debate down upon himself.

Although Daniel confessed to police as soon as he was able, upon his hospital release he was charged with murder. His crime raises an important question: What are two very poor people with disabilities supposed to do when they find themselves in such a desperate situation?

While physician-assisted suicide may sound like an idea straight from a futuristic and dystopian novel, Oregon permits physician-assisted suicide, which is all fine and dandy. But it is only available in very narrow circumstances and only to patients with access to health care. Oregon provides few options for people like Haynes and Daniel.

Mark Kaplan, community health professor at Portland State, said that up to 10 percent of elderly or near-elderly Oregon residents are uninsured, and many can’t afford the kind of supplemental insurance that would provide a stronger safety net in case of an accident or health failure.

Kaplan also said that the string of murder-suicides that have taken place in the last few years are in some ways “society-assisted suicides [or] suicides because of society’s failure.” Between 2003 and 2011, 183 people died in 81 murder-suicide–related events in Oregon alone, according to Oregon Public Health Division statistics.

While those numbers may seem small in the grand scheme of things, the people who died due to financial desperation could have been spared if they had been provided with the proper health care and attention they needed.

Daniel and Haynes probably should have sought psychiatric help from one of the many walk-in clinics throughout the Milwaukie/Portland area. But in such a desperate situation, one takes desperate measures. Instead of vilifying Daniel and others who have found themselves in similar situations, the prosecutors should look at the systems that brought Daniel to such a painful solution.

The couple did not want for much; they lived hand-to-mouth and made ends meet on Social Security disability payments. Neither had any savings or pensions to fall back on, so obviously they could not afford private health care.

Jacob Fernandez, Daniel’s 35-year-old son, said that he was unsure as to whether or not his father was aware of Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide program or of Haynes’ insurance state to begin with. Fernandez also expressed that he was unsure as to whether or not his father would have even qualified for physician-assisted suicide.

To be eligible, a patient must be under the care of a doctor who determines if they are terminally ill, has less than six months to live and can make a rational, informed decision regarding suicide.

Even if Haynes and Daniel had been eligible for physician-assisted suicide, that should not be the first solution suggested by others. If that is what the couple wanted, great. However, much like Kaplan stated earlier, the death of Haynes and near-death of Daniel can definitely be considered society-assisted.

Again, why did they feel that dying was the best way to end their suffering?

This case shows some major flaws in how health care has been handled, both on the national and state level. Prior to her death, Haynes spent time in a physical rehabilitation clinic but had been evicted as her Medicaid benefits had been exhausted.

Despite the current economic state of the U.S., no one should be denied health care just because they can’t afford it or don’t have the benefits to cover certain costs.

Given the situation, it would seem that both Haynes and Daniel were well aware of programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Oregon Health Plan. If so, why weren’t the systems put in place to help people out? Sure, there are a lot of people living in Oregon, so the elderly generally get put on the back-burner, but that’s not a reasonable excuse.

Last year, House Bill 3650 was passed into law. This bill requires that Oregon Integrated and Coordinated Care Organizations replace managed care systems for patients receiving medical assistance.

The CCOs would provide close-to-home and personalized health care at a much lower cost than other medicalized assistance. The low cost would be for both the patients and their families. This bill is important as it pertains mainly to making sure the elderly are well taken care of.

Sadly, Daniel and Haynes seem to have fallen through the cracks in the health care system. A situation like this shows us that, despite the recent reforms that health care has gone through, more needs to be done. No one deserves to feel like they need to die in order to escape their physical and financial burdens.

Make health care affordable (or free) and the general population will be better taken care of. With a healthier population, there would be more people willing to pay taxes and contribute to a self-sustaining society. Daniel is not the villain here; he and his partner were the victims of the health care industry.

Remember that the next time you read or hear something about how universal health care would be the end of our society.