Doctors Groups Criticized for Neutral Stance on Advancing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 2, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Doctors Groups Criticized for Neutral Stance on Advancing Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 2
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — The American Medical Association, which represents about one-third of the nation’s physicians, has an official stance against assisted suicide. And while many of its affiliates have opposed proposals to advance the grisly practice, its Montana and Wyoming chapters are remaining neutral.

That is upsetting to one leading bioethicist who says the chapters are abrogating their responsibility to stand up for ethical practices in medicine.

As has reported, the Montana Medical Association refused to help the state’s attorney general fight a lower court decision that would make the state the third to legalize assisted suicide.

MMA President Kirk Stoner said the medical group has no policy on assisted suicide and no plans to file legal papers supporting the appeal of the pro-suicide decision.

"We don’t have a real reason to get involved right now. There are bigger fish to fry," he claimed.

Last week, the Wyoming Medical Society told members of a legislative committee that it has no position on assisted suicide and worried it would lose members by adopting one.

Yet, during testimony on a bill that would ban assisted suicide in Wyoming, the doctors group urged legislators to remove a key provision from the legislation that would hold physicians accountable for giving patients drugs with the specific intent of ending their lives.

After the provision essentially banning doctor-assisted suicide was removed from the bill, the legislation was gutted and eventually died.

Wesley J. Smith, an attorney and top bioethics watchdog, isn’t pleased.

"One of the purposes of professional medical organizations is to stand up for proper ethical policies and laws. Lately, we have seen too many such organizations going neutral on assisted suicide," he says.

"How an organization dedicated to defending doctors and patients can be indifferent to one of the most important ethical and legal controversies that affect their patients’ very lives is beyond me," Smith adds.

Smith says he thinks the state medical groups are abandoning their responsibility to advance ethical medicine because more political types are ascending to leadership positions within the groups.

"This sometimes leads to a divide between what leadership wants and the rank and file believe," he said.

He also blames the fact that today’s colleges and universities are teaching a different concept of medical ethics — one that may predispose some new physicians to support, or at least look the other way, at assisted suicide.

"I also think younger physicians have been steeped in the utilitarian/choice ideology emerging in our times and consequently refuse to man the ramparts against destroying what is left of orthodox Hippocratic medicine," he said.

Finally, Smith worries that well-funded liberal groups are infiltrating the medical organizations and persuading the groups or its members to move in a leftward direction.

"The pro-assisted suicide movement is abundantly funded by people and foundations of the mindset of George Soros. The easiest way to describe it is that they want the world to look like Amsterdam and they have the money to make it so," he explains.

"One of the tactics taken is to send out high end, well-tailored assisted suicide advocates to these groups, whose leadership tend to be high end and well tailored, and who also share a cultural and political perspective with their visitors," Smith continues.

He concludes: "The goal is to neutralize medical opposition to assisted suicide, and it is beginning to work."

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