Over the last few years the American Medical Association (AMA) has been under enormous pressure from assisted suicide supporters and groups like Compassion and Choices as well as some other professional associations to change its’ long standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide to “neutrality”.
This month, the AMA House of Delegates decisively approved a strong report from AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs reaffirming current AMA policy on physician-assisted suicide stating that:
“permitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately cause more harm than good. 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. Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.”
Dr. Shane Macaulay, MD, of Kirkland, Wash., speaking for the Washington delegation supported the report, stating that:
“Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1997 with repeated assurances that it would stay contained and would not become euthanasia” (but) “Just last month, the Oregon state House of Representatives approved a bill to allow patient death by lethal injection, showing the inevitable progression from assisted suicide to euthanasia once physicians have accepted the idea that taking a patient’s life is permissible.”
Dr. David Grube, the national medical director of the pro-assisted suicide organization Compassion and Choices, countered that physician-assisted suicide is:
“a rarely-used request from patients, and yet it’s a response we can give to them when they’re suffering. The enemy is not death, but the enemy is terminal suffering; responding to that in ways that provide comfort is what matters the most.”
Ironically, physician-assisted suicide laws themselves do not require that pain or other suffering be present but rather death expected within six months.
In the Compassion and Choices article titled “AMA contradicts itself by passing resolution saying medical aid in dying is unethical, but ethical doctors can practice it”, Dr. Grube further criticizes the decision, saying:
“The report by the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) reinterpreted the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics (CEJA) by maintaining that ‘physician-assisted suicide’ (i.e., medical aid in dying) is ‘fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer,’ while paradoxically saying physicians can provide medical aid in dying ‘according to the dictates of their conscience without violating their professional obligations.’” (Emphasis added)
However, the report itself concluded that:
“Because Opinion E-5.7O powerfully expresses the perspective of those who oppose physician-41 assisted suicide, and Opinion E-1.1.7 (on the exercise of conscience) articulates the thoughtful moral basis for those who support assisted suicide, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs recommends that the Code of Medical Ethics not be amended, that Resolutions 15-A-16 and 14-A-17 (on neutrality) not be adopted, and that the remainder of the report be filed.”
As I wrote in my 2016 blog “Neutrality Kills”:
In 1997, Oregon became the first state to pass a physician-assisted suicide law. This came after the Oregon Medical Association changed its position from opposition to neutrality. 21 years later and after multiple failed attempts, the California state legislature approved the latest physician-assisted suicide law after the California Medical Association changed its opposition to neutrality.
The message sent-and received- was that if doctors themselves don’t strongly oppose physician-assisted suicide laws, why should the public?
BUT THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT DOCTORS
Earlier this year the American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote a draft position paper about dropping its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide. The ANA draft paper also proposed changing the term “assisted suicide” to ““aid in dying”, requiring that nurses to be “non-judgmental when discussing end of life options with patients”, and that nurses who object to assisted suicide are still “obliged to provide for patient safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that nursing care is available to the patient.” (Emphasis added)
In other words, nurses must abandon their vital role in detecting and preventing suicide for some of their patients when it comes to assisted suicide. This kind of discrimination is not only lethal to the patient but also discourages dedicated, ethical people from entering or remaining in the healthcare professions.
Although most doctors and nurses are NOT members of the ANA or AMA, if such organizations capitulate to the pro-assisted suicide groups, legalized assisted suicide throughout the US may be inevitable.
Hopefully, the ANA will follow the AMA example of continued opposition to assisted suicide and begin to restore the public’s trust that we will never kill our patients or help them kill themselves.