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Quality of life at the end of life

Massachusetts Medical Society Ends Opposition To Physician-Assisted Suicide


The Massachusetts Medical Society has ended its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

The medical society on Saturday adopted a neutral stance on what it now calls “medical aid-in-dying,” The Boston Globe reports.

The society’s governing body approved the changes in separate votes, with delegates voting 151 to 62 to retract its policy opposing physician-assisted suicide. A provision establishing a neutral position on the controversial practice passed 152 to 56.

High-Profile death of Brittany Maynard propelled the issue into national debate. Photo via Compassion & Choices.

The society also agreed on a definition for “medical aid-in-dying” that leaves open the possibility that state physicians could one day be authorized to write terminally ill patients prescriptions for life-ending drugs if legalized.

“We’re not going to take our previous position, dig in our heels, and say, ‘We won’t think about this or look at it from all perspectives,’ ” Dr. Henry Dorkin, president of the group, told the newspaper.

California and Colorado legalized the practice after medical societies in those states dropped their opposition, according to Compassion and Choices, a Denver-based group pushing for physician-assisted suicide across the nation.

Medical societies in the nation’s capital, Vermont, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Nevada have also ended their opposition to it.

“Based on our experience in other states, this vote is a very positive sign that the medical society will adopt a position of engaged neutrality that would pave the way for lawmakers to enact the End of Life Options Act,” said Marie Manis, Massachusetts campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, in a statement.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a similar ballot referendum.

Most medical societies oppose

Still, most medical societies, including the Chicago-based American Medical Association, are strongly opposed to the practice.

AMA is the nation’s largest organization of physicians and represents nearly 200,000 doctors, medical students and residents. Its policy remains unchanged amid the national debate regarding the risks and benefits of physician-assisted suicide.

“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress – such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness – may come to decide that death is preferable to life,” according to a 2014 statement sent to Life Matters Media. “However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. 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.”

The Roman Catholic Church and right-to-life organizations are also strongly opposed to it.

“We should not be steering vulnerable people toward suicide,” Dr. Mark Rollo told the Massachusetts Legislature’s Public Health Committee this fall. “Once legalized, assisted suicide becomes a cheap medical procedure upon which cash-strapped governments and profit-minded insurance companies will increasingly rely.”