Doctor/Hero Sparks a Patients’ Rights Revolution

Ramifications could be far-reaching for health care reform in United States

May 8, 2006

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WASHINGTON — The landmark Canadian Supreme Court ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec may stifle recent efforts to expand government control over health care in the United States, a new Cato study contends. The study, “A Seismic Shift: How Canada’s Supreme Court Sparked a Patients’ Rights Revolution,” dismisses the assumption that compulsory, universal health coverage is the key to universal access and to equality of care.

According to the study’s author, Jacques Chaoulli, a physician and lead counsel in Chaoulli v. Quebec: “To the extent that Canada has achieved equality in health care at all, it has done so as Leo XIII predicted, through a ‘leveling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation’.”

In Chaoulli, the court ruled that the nation’s Medicare program “violated Canadian patients’ rights to ‘life, liberty, and security of person’ ” by subjecting them to unreasonable, “intentional,” and in some cases fatal waiting periods for treatment. Queues averaged 17.7 weeks, according to the Fraser Institute.

The waiting periods resulted from the state-run health care system’s failure to meet the needs of all patients. And, since Canada’s Medicare monopoly effectively outlawed any private health insurance, Dr. Chaoulli watched many of his patients suffer.

Chaoulli writes that this case could serve as a model for overturning other harmful government restrictions on patients’ rights.  The U.S. Medicare program contains a restriction similar to the one struck down by Canada’s Supreme Court.  U.S. seniors “are effectively prohibited from purchasing Medicare-covered services from their doctors with their own funds.”

In addition, Chaoulli argues that “more than 6,000 American patients die each year while waiting for suitable organs,” and that “those waiting lists are caused by the U.S. Congress, which prohibits payments to organ providers and thereby dries up the supply of transplantable organs.”

Recently, a federal court used reasoning similar to that in Chaoulli when it reinstated the case Abigail Alliance v. Eschenbach, where terminally ill patients are suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for denying their right to access unproven but potentially life-saving drugs. Chaoulli writes, “That suit accuses the FDA of violating the patients’ rights to life and liberty as protected by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is my hope that Chaoulli can inform the court’s deliberations and that the court will strike down this affront to patients’ rights.”

On Tuesday, May 9th, Dr. Chaoulli will address the issue of private health insurance in Canada at the 7th annual Optimum Reassurance Inc. Seminar on Out-of-Country Health Coverage. For details, please click here.

Policy Analysis: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6378

Contact: Jacques Chaoulli, senior fellow, Montreal Economic Institute,  dr [dot] chaoulli [at] videotron [dot] ca