After an intense debate today, the American Medical Association decided not to reaffirm its long-standing opposition to assisted suicide. Surprisingly, the nation’s largest medical society, the American Medical Association, has just voted against the recommendation of its own Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs to keep its position against assisted suicide.
For years the nation’s leading doctors organization has opposed assisted suicide, which preys on the elderly and disabled. But euthanasia activists have been successful in getting some of its state affiliates to take a neutral position, which has allowed and enabled state legislators in some states to approve legalizing assisted suicide.
After a thorough study of the issue, an American Medical Association panel recommended that the AMA continue opposing assisted suicide. Rather than reaffirming its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide, the AMA has in effect sent it back to the Council for further study — opening the door to a change in position. The medical community’s position on assisted suicide has historically been a key bellwether for legalization – i.e. in almost every state where the medical community supported assisted suicide or became neutral on the issue, laws have subsequently been passed permitting it.
Leading advocates for patients monitoring the debate at the AMA told LifeNews they are very concerned about the decision and the effect that it could have on pushing assisted suicide in additional states.
Executive Director of Patients Rights Action Fund, Matt Vallière, said, “The American Medical Association’s decision to not confirm their own Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs’ recommendation – namely that they maintain their opposition to assisted suicide – does not take into account that this bad public policy puts vulnerable patients at high risk for coercion, mistakes and even abuse. Although the AMA’s opposition position still stands for now, a referral back to CEJA is a lost opportunity and a failure to stand against a policy that has grave consequences for everyone, but especially persons living with illness, disabilities, or socio-economic disadvantage. Assisted suicide is not medical care.”
“The American Medical Association’s internationally respected Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, after two years of thorough study of assisted suicide, both here in the small handful of U.S. states and in the few countries abroad that have legalized it, produced a report recommending that the AMA maintain its long-standing opposition position to physician assisted suicide,” he explained.
That panel concluded: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
Vallière says the AMA vote follows one by the second largest American medical group, the American College of Physicians (ACP), which doubled down on their opposition last year, stating:
“The power to prescribe assisted suicide carries a profound potential for misuse and abuse. The creation of a formal role for physicians to assist patients with suicide in an era of health care cost containment is especially troublesome. A broad right to physician-assisted suicide in a country with no general right to health care would be, at best, ironic.”
He pointed to Washington D.C. as a testament to how unpopular assisted suicide is with physicians.
“And, as we’ve seen in Washington, D.C., only 2 of approximately 11,000 physicians signed up to participate in the suicides of their patients. In fact, not a single resident has opted to kill themselves with the law. Given past examples of unethical behavior by medical professions, it is possible that residents trust their doctors even less now that suicide is touted as medical “treatment” in the District,” he explained.
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Countries that have legalized assisted suicide started where American proponents suggest we start and have ended up with expansion to assisted suicide and euthanasia for nearly any reason and eroding the little protections there were for vulnerable people. Here in the U.S., even with the great poverty of data and oversight of assisted suicide in legal states, there has been too many cases of people being subject to deadly harm through mistakes, abuse, and coercion.
The medical profession, as the ACP said, should remedy their failure to provide good care and comfort at the end of life. After all, according to Oregon’s public health department, the top five reasons people list for asking a doctor’s assistance in suicide have nothing to do with physical pain, but rather are all matters of existential suffering and disability.
Meanwhile, advances in medical science have all but dispelled physical suffering at the end of life through multi-disciplinary palliative care —and in the rare extreme cases, sedation of the imminently dying. But access to the gold standard of palliative care is regretfully abysmal, a problem that has been shown to drive people to assisted suicide. When a great many patients have no other choice but suicide, the illusion of augmenting patient autonomy with this dangerous public policy becomes crystal clear.
Congress, state legislatures, and medical licensure boards should act to promote access to, availability of, and training in high-level multidisciplinary palliative care and to support both the home and facility based personal care needs of people with chronic life-threatening illness and advanced disability, which under assisted suicide law, qualifies a person as “terminal.”