Two state medical societies have dropped their opposition to medical aid-in-dying, a position that mirrors growing acceptance of the practice among many doctors.
The Massachusetts Medical Society on Saturday became the 10th chapter of the American Medical Association to depart from the profession’s long-standing opposition to physician-assisted dying, according to an organization announcement.
The Vermont Medical Society also recently joined the list of medical associations that have voted to take a neutral stance on physician-assisted death. Massachusetts and Vermont joined medical societies in California, Colorado, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and the District of Columbia in dropping opposition to what was once called physician-assisted suicide. Supporters of legislation that allows doctors to write a prescription for a lethal dose of medication that terminally ill adults can use to end their lives now prefer the term medical aid-in-dying.
The shift in position is a new one, as nine of those medical societies adopted a neutral stance in the last two years, according to the group Compassion & Choices. The group praised the action by the Massachusetts physicians’ group, which it hopes will improve the chances for passing legislation in the Bay State to legalize aid-in-dying.
The society’s House of Delegates voted to adopt a position of “neutral engagement,” which it says will allow it to serve as a medical and scientific resource as part of legislative efforts that will support shared decision-making between terminally ill patients and their physicians. The change followed the release of a survey of the society’s members that showed they supported the aid-in-dying bill the state legislature is considering by a 2-1 margin, Compassion & Choices said.
Also applauding the decision was Roger Kligler, M.D., a retired doctor who has stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer and filed a lawsuit against the state seeking the right to die using self-administered medication. Compassion & Choices and a fellow physician, who wants the right to prescribe medications to help patients die without fear of prosecution, have joined in that lawsuit.
“I am excited about this decision because the legislature greatly respects the medical society’s positions on healthcare issues and its previous opposition to medical aid-in-dying was a serious roadblock to passing legislation authorizing this end-of-life care option. I’m extremely grateful for the society’s change of heart,” Kligler said in the group’s announcement.
The Massachusetts society’s vote came after considerable discussion, as aid-in-dying raises ethical questions for many physicians.
In Vermont, the medical society’s action caught up with existing law. The society dropped its opposition to the state’s 2013 death with dignity law, adopting a resolution at its annual meeting that says doctors have a right to decide if they should assist their patients in ending their lives.
While some physician groups have changed their stance, others have held firm. The American College of Physicians published an updated position statement in September reaffirming its opposition to legalization of what it still calls physician-assisted suicide.