With a large majority (392-162), the most important medical institution in the United States reiterates that assisted suicide is not a medical act. It is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” AMA says.
AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) clarifies
The euphemism used by politicans, media and associations pro euthanasia to pass the law was object of a detailed analysis.
First it examines “the need to distinguish between ‘physician-assisted suicide’ and ‘aid-in-dying.’ because it reflects the opposed ethical perspectives.
Pro euthanasia ‘aid in dying’ term hides the true medical meaning of assisted suicide
“Proponents of physician participation often use language that casts the practice in a positive light,” CAJA said, adding that the term “‘aid in dying’ invokes physicians’ commitment to succor and support.”
Different terms to hide the true meaning used by states legislation
This can be seen in the terminology featured in relevant state legislation:
1. “Death with Dignity” appears in legislation enacted in Oregon, Washington and D.C.;
2. “End of Life Options” in California and Colorado;
3. “Our Care Our Choice” in Hawaii; and “Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life” in Vermont.
CEJA observed that those on the other side of the argument say such language is euphemistic and “obscures or sanitizes the activity.”
They in turn favor “physician-assisted suicide,” a term which the report said has “negative connotations regarding patients’ psychological state and its suggestion that physicians are complicit in something that, in other contexts, they would seek to prevent.”
The term ‘physician-assisted suicide’ describes the practice with the greatest precision
CEJA concluded, however, that it’s best to use “plainly descriptive language,” and that, “despite its negative connotations, the term ‘physician-assisted suicide’ describes the practice with the greatest precision.”
Ambiguity is unacceptable for providing ethical guidance
“Most importantly, it clearly distinguishes the practice from euthanasia. The terms ‘aid in dying’ or ‘death with dignity’ could be used to describe either euthanasia or palliative/hospice care at the end of life and this degree of ambiguity is unacceptable for providing ethical guidance.”
The same strategic used to pass pro abortion law
Word choice in the assisted suicide debate has long been contentious, mirroring the situation in the debate over abortion (“pro-life” vs. “anti-abortion,” “pro-choice” vs. “pro-abortion,” “fetal heartbeat” vs. “embryonic pulsing,” and “partial-birth abortion” vs. “intact dilation and extraction.”)
Compassion & Choices – an advocacy group whose name points to the deliberate use of language in the euthanasia debate – criticized the AMA decisions.
“Leading AMA member societies that provide care for dying patients have adopted value-neutral terminology to describe medical aid in dying, including the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Neurology,” said the group’s national medical director, Dr. David Grube.
“Yet, sadly the AMA ignores this fact and clings to ‘physician-assisted suicide’ despite its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs’ admitting the term has ‘negative connotations.’
‘A prescription for death’
The AMA’s current policy on assisted suicide, now updated by vote, is based on an ethics “opinion” stating that allowing physicians to help patients to end their lives “is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
Enhance palliative care is proposed
“Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life,” it adds.
Relevance of pysicians’ conscience objection
However the AMA has a separate “opinion” on the broader issue of “physician exercise of conscience,” which stresses the importance of “[p]reserving opportunity for physicians to act (or to refrain from acting) in accordance with the dictates of conscience in their professional practice.”
That opinion does not refer directly to assisted suicide. It does say physicians are expected to “honor patients’ informed decisions to refuse life-sustaining treatment.”
In its report, CEJA cited both “opinions,” saying that the first “powerfully expresses the perspective of those who oppose physician-assisted suicide,” while the second “articulates the thoughtful moral basis for those who support assisted suicide.”
The Patients’ Rights Action Fund, which opposes assisted suicide, applauded the AMA decision.
“Today was a big win for patients as the AMA sides with them and people with disabilities who would be at risk for deadly harm through mistakes, coercion, and abuse, all the while carefully guarding the trust upon which the patient-physician relationship is based,” said the group’s executive director, Matt Vallière.
“Patients deserve care and protection, not a prescription for death.”
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg also welcomed the fact the AMA’s policy “continues to refer to assisted suicide as unethical.”
“Prescribing lethal drugs to patients is a form of abandonment because it denies a person, at the most vulnerable time of their life, the care and support that they need,” he said in an email.
“Assisted suicide is not healthcare because it replaces effective treatment and care with harsh lethal drugs,” Schadenberg said. “I hope that the decision of the AMA delegates will enable politicians to also reject assisted suicide.”
Current U.S. states pro euthanasia
Beyond Oregon, assisted suicide is now legal in DC, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Vermont, and Washington. New Jersey’s “Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act” is due to take effect on August 1, and legislation is awaiting the signature of Maine Gov. Janet Mills, after narrowly passing the state’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate (CNS News, June 12, 2019) .
Photo The Daily Gazette