The AMA is Not Changing Their Position on PAS

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Recently, numerous accounts in the media and online have indicated that the American Medical Association (AMA) is taking steps toward changing their official policy position on physician-assisted suicide from opposed to neutral. Fortunately, this chatter is inaccurate. In fact, although the AMA is currently considering the policy landscape in the U.S. surrounding PAS, they have no plans to make any changes to their policy of opposition.

This confusion was laid bare in a New York Times article from January 16th that originally stated the AMA planned to change their policy position on PAS from opposed to neutral. However, as you can see below from the January 19th correction to this article, the AMA responded that they have no such plans and are not actively considering any change to its policy on this issue.

“Correction: January 19, 2017 

An earlier version of this article misstated the American Medical Association’s stance on physician-aided dying. At its 2016 annual meeting, the association commissioned its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs to “outline the current landscape surrounding the issue of physician-assisted suicide.” That report, expected in June, will not recommend any policy. The Association did not agree to study whether to shift from its position opposing physician participation in assisted-dying to a neutral position.”

What’s troubling about this situation is that Compassion & Choices, the primary PAS proponent across the country, started the rumor last June that AMA was reconsidering their position on PAS. The timing of this rumor was problematic though as the AMA released their revised Code of Medical Ethics the same month. This revised Code contained the same strong rebuke of physician-assisted suicide in Chapter 5 (pdf):

“5.7 Physician-Assisted Suicide

Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (e.g., the physician provides sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide).

It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress—such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness—may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, 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.

Physicians: (a) Should not abandon a patient once it is determined that cure is impossible. (b) Must respect patient autonomy. (c) Must provide good communication and emotional support. (d) Must provide appropriate comfort care and adequate pain control. AMA Principles of Medical Ethics: I,IV”

It is important to see the country’s largest organization representing doctors continue to speak out strongly against legalizing physician-assisted suicide. As the debate over this issue starts again in Maryland, we must make sure that members of the General Assembly understand this fact and aren’t fooled by misinformation.

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