AMA to vote whether to retain opposition to physician-assisted suicide

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. As NRL News Today was about to post all stories for the day, news broke that the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates voted not to affirm the report of its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) to maintain opposition to assisted suicide. The vote was 56% to 44% to send  the report back to committee for further review. We will have a full report tomorrow.

For the last few years we have kept you posted on the internal machinations of the American Medical Association (AMA) as pro-physician- assisted suicide forces seek what, for them, is the Holy Grail: for the AMA to ignore the recommendation of its own Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) to retain AMA opposition to physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and “go neutral.”

Tomorrow the AMA’s House of Delegates will vote to either accept the CEJA’s recommendation or send it back to committee. The latter would be a huge victory for the likes of Compassion &Choices, formerly, and rightly, named the Hemlock Society.

I read a story in the Washington Post this morning about the upcoming vote and, although I already knew this from many years of watching the campaign to legitimize PAS, the story reminded me of how and why support for assisted suicide has grown over time.

But before analyzing Lindsey Bever’s in-kind contribution to the pro-physician-assisted suicide movement, we need to say something about the Gallup poll which just last month declared “Americans’ Strong Support for Euthanasia Persists.” Why?

Because they are related and because Gallup’s positioning of euthanasia is of a kind with how Bever frames physician-assisted suicide. (In the former the doctor directly –“actively”– kills the patient. In the latter he provides the lethal cocktail which the patient takes theoretically on her own.)

For example, here’s the loaded—and I do mean loaded—question Gallup asks, according to Megan Brenan:

When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it?

The debate has long since passed questions of terminal illness. But even if it was “just” those diagnosed with a disease that cannot be cured, the entire experience of Europe and now Canada is that instantly there is a hue and cry that this “right” cannot/should not/must not be “limited.”

And to soften resistance, there is the reassuring drivel about “painless means.” Moreover—and this escalates the dangers many-fold—the question adds if the family should request euthanasia.

So much for autonomy, informed consent, and the like.

Back to the Bever’s Washington Post story about the American Medical Association and PAS. You cannot emphasize enough how much she tilts the story by starting out with a physician who formerly opposed PAS who now supports it.

Message? He is a harbinger, the canary in the coalmine, if you will, that the AMA may (and should) abandon staunch opposition to PAS.

Then she adds that in the physician’s experience, “everyone” died “peacefully.” Then throw in a bioethicist whose own position has changed to support (although the reporter doesn’t tell us that) who tells Bever that physicians’ positions are “evolving.”

For good measure add the Brittany Maynard story whose assisted suicide was a huge windfall for Compassion & Choices.

In between Bever throws in a few opponents, but the message is clear. The AMA should reject its historic position of opposition

The one redeeming note in the Post story is after writing “It’s uncertain which way the vote will go,” she adds

but in an open forum on the AMA’s website, doctors, delegates and others showed strong support for the status quo.

But Bever is undeterred that the status quo must go. She immediately adds

That position is increasingly at odds with public opinion, with polls showing many Americans saying doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

We can hope the AMA does not lose its way. There is no endpoint, if the AMA “goes neutral.” There will be pressure on physicians to “assist” their patients, the pool of which will grow wider and larger and deeper each year.

We will update you on the results tomorrow.