AMA Doctors Oppose Legislation Protecting Disabled Patients

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 21, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

AMA Doctors Oppose Legislation Protecting Disabled Patients Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 21, 2005

Chicago, IL ( — The American Medical Associated yesterday adopted a resolution opposing any legislation that would make sure disable and incapacitated patients are not refused lifesaving medical care.

After the starvation and dehydration death of Terri Schiavo, some states are looking at proposals to make sure food and water are not removed from patients who can’t make their own medical decisions and have not previously asked that they be deprived such care.

However, the AMA says it will oppose any legislation making that kind of determination.

Many of the doctors attending the group’s annual meeting in Chicago said they don’t want government to get involved in the doctor-patient relationship, according to an AP article.

Dr. Michael Williams, a Johns Hopkins Hospital neurologist who sponsored the measure, told the Associated Press that, while Terri’s "circumstances were heart-wrenching and compelling, they’re so rare that they’re not a good basis to revise existing law."

"I wish there had not been politics involved in it, and I hope there won’t be in the future should similar cases arise," he said.

But others say making sure patients don’t become victims of euthanasia, like Terri, is critically important.

Nancy Valko, of Nurses for Life and a leading monitor of end-of-life issues, says the need for the legislation the AMA opposes is great because many hospitals are adopting "medical futility policies." She indicates doctors and hospital officials are more quick to give up hope on treating a patient and deny further lifesaving medical treatment.

Also on Tuesday, the AMA reaffirmed existing policy saying it is ethical in some cases to stop life-sustaining treatment if the doctor believes it is in the patient’s best interest.

Because of the kind of policies the AMA favor, some who specialize in monitoring euthanasia issues say patients should make their medical requests known now to prevent winding up in a situation similar to Terri’s.

Wesley Smith, a leading pro-life attorney who specializes in bioethics issues, says people should make their wishes known beforehand.

"I think people need to create advanced directives in which they say, ‘I don’t want to be dehydrated to death and have my food taken away if I become cognitively disabled,’" Smith explained.

"We always hear about doing away with treatment, but they can also be used proactively to say, ‘Look, don’t take any actions to intentionally kill me,’" Smith concluded.