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AMA’s Dangerous Shift on Physician-Assisted Suicide

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In a dangerous shift, the American Medical Association (AMA) has voted to reevaluate its long held opposition to physician-assisted suicide (PAS). This comes after the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) released its thoughtful recommendation based on two years of study to maintain its current stance in opposition of PAS.

After careful consideration, CEJA concludes that in its current form the Code offers guidance to support physicians and the patients they serve in making well-considered, mutually respectful decisions about legally available options for care at the end of life in the intimacy of a patient-physician relationship.

Ultimately, AMA delegates voted to reject this balanced, evidence-based recommendation and instead sent the report back to committee for further review. The vote by delegates in attendance is a marked difference from the opinions of many physicians in Maryland and across the country who oppose this dangerous practice.

As pointed out by Dr. Joseph Marine in a powerful opinion editorial in USA Today:

The incompatibility of physician-assisted suicide with ethical medical practice is illustrated by the stunning news published in April that in Washington, D.C., nearly a year after enactment of assisted-suicide law, only two out of 11,000 licensed physicians (0.02%) had registered to participate. The indisputable facts emerging from Washington show physicians still recognize that assisted suicide is gravely problematic, and that physicians who practice physician-assisted suicide may not be trusted by patients with their lives and their health.

Dr. Marine argues that the onset of legal PAS around the country will affect everyone.

Assisted suicide will inevitably color doctors’ view of care toward patients with advanced illness, advanced age and disabilities. With time, the “choice” may become a societal expectation, especially under the economic pressure of rising health care costs.

As Dr. Marine points out, PAS is particularly dangerous in our current climate of exponentially rising healthcare costs. We have already seen an incident in California where an insurance company would cover the cost of the deadly drugs for a patient to engage in PAS, but not the costly life-prolonging treatment. No patient or physician should be in this position.

The AMA has not made any final decisions, but the rejection shows a clear shift in opinion among active delegates at the meeting. The delegates will likely meet again in June of 2019 to vote on the issue. Until then, it’s critical to continue our efforts to raise awareness surrounding the dangers of PAS. Our voices must be heard in order to fight back effectively against dangerous PAS legislation around the country.

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