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Massachusetts Medical Society’s House of Delegates Overwhelmingly Reaffirms Opposition to Doctor-Prescribed Death

by | Dec 6, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

Over the weekend,  the Massachusetts Medical Society’s House of Delegates (HOD) voted overwhelmingly to retain the Society’s long-standing opposition to physician assisted suicide.  The final tally was 178 to 56.  “The HOD unanimously passed additional language endorsing quality end-of-life care,” a statement from the Massachusetts Medical Society said on Saturday.

The vote is hugely important. As Jennifer Popik, from National Right to Life’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, has written, “While doctor-prescribed death is legal in only Oregon and Washington, assisted suicide advocates have announced they plan on getting a foothold in the Northeast: in Vermont and Massachusetts. Should they succeed, momentum could leave many other New England states vulnerable.”

Indeed, that was the rationale for the HOD vote in the first place. Last May at the Annual Meeting, “Proponents of the change cited the upcoming 2012 ballot question which would legalize physician assisted suicide, which some call ‘doctor prescribed suicide’, as a reason to look at the issue,” according to the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS).

Lynda Young, M.D., president of the MMS, said that “Physicians of our Society have clearly declared that physician-assisted suicide  is inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer and health care provider. At the same time we recognize the importance of patient dignity and the critical role that physicians have in end-of-life care.”

Dr. Young said the policy goes beyond a single statement of opposition to physician-assisted suicide to include “support for patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of life.” Additionally, it includes the Society’s commitment to “provide physicians treating terminally-ill patients with the ethical, medical, social, and legal education, training, and resources to enable them to contribute to the comfort and dignity of the patient and the patient’s family.”

The vote was, of course, warmly received by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, National Right to Life’s state affiliate. “THIS IS HUGE! The Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor Prescribed Death will be able to trumpet this vote far and wide,” MCFL said on its webpage.

“Informal public opinion polls are currently at odds with the Massachusetts Medical Society results. The MMS voted by more than ¾ to oppose physician assisted suicide. The general public right now seems to support the concept. The difference is probably explained by the fact that doctors are more familiar with end-of-life issues and have been thinking about them for longer. This indicates that, as the opponents of the ballot question are able to educate the public, support for Physician-Assisted Suicide/Doctor Prescribed Death will dwindle.”

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Categories: Assisted Suicide