Ontario Health Minister refuses to assist dying mother

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews

Kimm Fletcher is a 41-year-old wife and mother of two young children who lives in Milton, Ontario.  Fletcher has Stage 4 brain cancer and has been told that she may not live to Christmas, but with a drug called Avastin, there is a possibility that her life could be extended by 18 months.  Last week Fletcher said, “if this gives me an extra year to live, to love my husband and play with my children, I want that opportunity.”

The problem is that while Avastin is covered in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, Ontario only pays for the drug in the treatment of colon cancer.

Avastin is not covered by her insurance coverage and the Ontario government will not pay for the drug to possibly extend Fletcher’s life.  The monthly drug cost for the Fletcher family is over $8,000.

In the Ontario legislature, MPP Ted Chudleigh questioned Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.  “Five days ago, you joined this assembly in a standing ovation for Kimm Fletcher.  Later in a private meeting, you promised to review her file to investigate why she is being denied OHIP coverage for the drug, Avastin, that she so desperately needs.  To put things in perspective, five days comes out to about 10 per cent of her medically-predicted life expectancy.  On Kimm’s behalf, I ask if the minister has, in fact, reviewed her file?”

Matthews stated that the government has taken the politics out of these situations and that the approval of drugs is on an “evidence based” approach.  She stated that there was no clear evidence indicating Avastin would assist Fletcher, contradicting Fletcher’s oncologist, plus legislation prevents her from intervening even on compassionate grounds.

The Milton area has come to the assistance of Kimm Fletcher.  The community has raised over $87,000 so far to assist the family in covering the costs that the Ontario government has denied.  Fletcher continues to raise awareness of the situation and stated at a press conference at Queen’s Park last week that, “Even if it’s too late for me to get funding, I want the next person in my situation to be able to live a longer life.”

How can the Minister of Health refuse payment of a drug recommended by a certified provincial oncologist in addition to a drug that has been approved by three provinces for brain cancer?  Where is the “universal” in our health care system when where you live determines what health services are covered by the government?

In the same week the Ontario Liberals (supported by the NDP) survived a non-binding non-confidence motion due to the $1.1 billion gas plant scandal that Premier Wynne has indicated was cancelled as a “political decision,” Matthews condemned a dying mother because she is not allowed to make “political” decisions.

The Ontario health care system is being run by faceless bureaucrats, who in this case, took away the ability of the physician to do their job while potentially shortening the life of a mother.  I wonder if the Health Minister would be able to explain her decision and the drug approval process to Fletcher’s children.

The system needs to change to allow for exceptions.  It is the right thing to do for Kimm Fletcher and for Ontarians who might be in a similar situation in the future.

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