The AMA should stand firm against assisted suicide

By Jennifer Popik, JD, Director, NRLC Department of Medical Ethics

There are conflicting reports about whether the American Medical Association (AMA) is considering abandoning its longtime position in opposition to physician-assisted suicide and going “neutral.” It is important to realize how vital it is that the AMA not change.

The AMA’s longtime stance has been, in part:

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”

Both the national AMA and state medical societies’ opposition to assisted suicide have been instrumental in stopping the spread of these dangerous laws. In fact, when the Vermont and California medical societies took neutral positions, it was a major stumbling block to the efforts in the legislature to block legalization.

Assisting suicide is now legal in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and California, and the practice may have some legal protection in the state of Montana. Additionally, assisted suicide set to take effect shortly in the District of Columbia , absent action by Congress.

It is more important now than ever for the AMA to keep its strong position.

Did you know that in states where assisted suicide is legal?

  • Your doctor has the power to write lethal prescriptions and even suggest suicide to you as an “option.”
  • There is nothing in the law prohibiting your insurance company from paying for lethal drugs costing FAR less than many treatments, only a few hundreds of dollars.
  • Oregon is proof that general suicides rise dramatically once assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”
  • Your family member could die from taking lethal drugs and you wouldn’t know about it until he/she is dead because no family notification is required in advance.
  • Assisted suicide is a recipe for elder and disability abuse because it can put lethal drugs in the hands of abusers.
  • A relative who is an heir to the patient’s estate or an abusive caregiver can pick up the lethal drugs and administer them without the patient’s knowledge or consent. There is no oversight and no witnesses are required once the lethal drugs leave the pharmacy

While such laws are promoted as providing an “option,” they create an environment in which assisted suicide may become the cheap and “easy” solution to serious illness, pushing the medically vulnerable into early deaths.

The AMA is a critical component and MUST retain its opposition to assisted suicide.

Share these concerns with Bette Crigger, PhD, CEJA’s Secretary, Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, American Medical Association at