AMA to review its stance on physician-assisted suicide

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The American Medical Association’s 2018 convention is being held this week at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. | Google Streetview

The nation’s largest association of doctors recommended their ethics board change its stance on physician-assisted suicide Monday afternoon.

After debating the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affair’s report that argued the AMA should continue to use the wording “physician-assisted suicide” instead of “aid in dying,” 56 percent of the AMA House of Delegates voted that the study be referred back to the Council to review their previous stance on what language should be used.

This vote doesn’t mark any binding change in the AMA’s stance on physician-assisted suicide. However, it opens the door to permanent change when the amended report is presented at next year’s conference.

The majority opinion is directly in opposition with the AMA’s longstanding viewpoint that “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.”

Many individuals came forward during the debate to dissent from the AMA’s current stance on the matter, arguing that using the term “physician-assisted suicide” could jeopardize doctors on ethical grounds, even if they performed the procedure in states where it’s legal.

Physician-assisted suicide has recently gained ground as an ethical end-of-life option, with six states and D.C. legalizing the procedure. A wave of national support came after the highly publicized 2014 death of Brittany Maynard, who moved to Portland to receive a lethal dose of barbiturates after being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor.

However, not all who attended the debate Monday were in agreement with the majority stance. Dr. Diane Gowski, a representative from the Society for Critical Care Medicine, argued that it was irresponsible for the AMA to call physician-assisted suicide anything else, especially in light of the recent suicide contagion effect sweeping the country.

“Let’s be clear, (physician-assisted suicide) is suicide,” she said. “None of us would hand our patient a gun, so let us not hand them any means to end their life.”

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