Great News: American Medical Association Votes 65-35 In Favor of Treating The Terminally Ill, As Opposed To Assisted Suicide

Erin Evans

This is good news. The American Medical Association has voted 65-35 to continue treating the terminally ill, rather than to support 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,” states AMA policy.  “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.”

I’ve long wondered how physician-assisted suicide is permissible under the Hippocratic Oath of ethics taken by doctors to do no harm.  The Council on Ethical & Judicial Affairs, which functions to maintain, update, and promote adherence to the AMA Code of Ethics agrees: the Council has concluded twice in the past year that the practice falls outside of the scope of a doctor’s duties.

I think there can be a place for physician-assisted suicide in very limited circumstances – for instance, if someone is on hospice and literally has days left to go.  In general, however, I disagree with the practice. Medical science advances so quickly that what is terminal and unbearable today might have been treatment options in just a few months.  Even without new treatments, medical prognoses are often outlived – even Brittany Maynard, the woman with terminal brain cancer who was the poster child for physician-assisted suicide back in 2014, had outlived her six-month prognosis when she chose to end her life.

Often, I think how well a person does with a terminal illness depends on their attitude and determination to beat the disease.  Cancer patients are sometimes encouraged to seek a forward-looking hobby that gives them something to look forward to.  I think the option to kill yourself to escape the suffering gives people an incentive NOT to fight for their lives.

Physician-assisted suicide shows a devaluing of the dignity of human life.  I’m glad to see the AMA standing on the side of life.