Amid increasing attempts to legalize euthanasia at the state level, the nation’s second-largest network of physicians officially spoke out against it last week.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) wrote in a position statement published last Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine that the organization of 152,000 medical professionals stands against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, “the practice of which raises ethical, clinical, and other concerns.”
“Control over the manner and timing of a person’s death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine,” the group concluded. “However, though high-quality care, effective communication, compassionate support, and the right resources, physicians can help patients control many aspects of how they live out life’s last chapter.”
The position paper came in response to increasing public interest in legalizing euthanasia to promote patient autonomy at the end of life. The ACP said it remained “attentive to all voices” but decided to oppose legalization efforts.
John Di Camillo, a staff ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told me the decision is “wonderful news.”
The ACP statement is “giving voice to the real need of compassionate and supportive care for people who may be considering requests for assisted suicide and protecting the role of physicians as healers, not killers,” he said.
The much larger American Medical Association (AMA) has for years discouraged physicians from being “involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life.”
Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told me the ACP statement aligning with the AMA should help shatter the pro-euthanasia movement’s illusion of unstoppable momentum.
“The facts show otherwise, that there’s not really a massive turn toward assisted suicide going on,” he said. “Over and over again, almost every state is constantly defeating this. The doctors remain against it. The court decisions in the last couple of years have all gone against it, and yet there’s a perception that the opposite is true.”
Physician statements like the ACP’s carry a lot of weight with legislators “because when you legalize assisted suicide, you’re actually asking physicians to be directly and intentionally involved with giving lethal drugs to their patients,” Schadenberg said.
In Canada, where lawmakers legalized assisted suicide last year, advocates have pushed to expand the Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law to include children and patients with dementia, Schadenberg noted. Some Canadian doctors have opted out of the law, but last week, the Montreal Gazette cited a recent Quebec study showing 91 percent of caregivers support expanding MAID to patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The pro-euthanasia camp has yet to make such headway in the United States.
Since Oregon passed its Death with Dignity Act in 1994, lawmakers have filed 231 bills seeking to legalize euthanasia in state legislatures across the country, according to the Patients Rights Council. One-fifth—43 bills—appeared this year, and every one of them failed before becoming law.
Some states have defeated dozens of proposals: Hawaii faced 30 previous attempts to legalize euthanasia before this year’s onslaught of five bills, and New York had 12 before this year’s three bills.
Lawmakers in only five states—Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and Colorado—have legalized assisted suicide. The Council of the District of Columbia approved a law last year, but federal lawmakers could overturn that measure.
Meanwhile, Alabama adopted a ban on any form of aid in dying in June, and New York’s high court refused to legalize physician-assisted suicide earlier this month.