AMA opposes physician-assisted suicide

NICK EICHER, HOST: Last week, Maine became the latest state to legalize doctor-assisted suicide. But just two days before the governor signed the bill into law, America’s largest physicians group reiterated its opposition to the practice.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: By a 2-to-1 margin, members of the American Medical Association said both doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia are, quote—“fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” The group’s members also said the practice is impossible to control and would pose serious risks to society.

Joining us now to talk about it is WORLD Radio correspondent and physician Charles Horton. He’s based in Pennsylvania.

REICHARD: Doctor, given the AMA’s more liberal positions on things like sexuality, gender, and abortion, this stance seems a bit surprising. Would you agree with that?

CHARLES HORTON, GUEST: Yes, very much. In recent years the AMA has had a lot of sympathy for the left’s wish list even on things that most people wouldn’t consider directly related to medicine. The logic has been, well, immigrants have health needs so we’re going to have a position on not just those health needs but immigration. A gunshot wound is an injury so we’re not going to just have a position on how to treat that, but on gun policy in general. The sleeves do a lot of things theoretically affecting public health and the AMA having a big list of things where it has an official opinion. I think that is politicized because it would focus on the low-hanging fruit first. You’d see a lot of effort going out to heart disease, healthy lifestyle, staying active, healthy body weight, that kind of thing.

REICHARD: So why do you think so many U.S. doctors oppose physician-assisted suicide when their colleagues in places like Canada and some European countries have embraced it?

HORTON: We should remember at the outset whether the AMA agrees or disagrees with us, it’s not necessarily representative of American medicine. The last time someone made a formal estimate, which was 2011, about 15 percent of American attendings belonged to it. So 85 percent didn’t. With that said, I think this was a remarkable vote because the HOD—the House of Delegates which just met—does usually back liberal policies.

So why the difference here?

I think the AMA actually said it really well and I want to just quote the passage that they cited from their code of medical ethics, “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.

Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. That makes me think that one side-effect of the pro-life fight that we’ve had ever since Roe. v. Wade has been to call attention to the value of life itself. 

REICHARD: In the states that have had legal assisted-suicide for a while, we have a track record to look at. it has been used sparingly. For example, Oregon reported 167 deaths by doctor-prescribed drugs last year. It does seem that perceived demand is a lot higher than the actual demand. What do you make of that?

HORTON: First and foremost, I’m thankful that it hasn’t been more widely used. I do think this might go with the different attitudes between America and overseas.

The Dutch didn’t have theirs until 2002. Fourteen years after that, 4 percent of deaths in the Netherlands were officially reported to be euthanasia. So, it’s true. We haven’t seen that sharp rise here. I do want to think, as a Christian, as someone who is strongly pro-life, that this has to do with—again—effects of that push for life—all life, whether glamorous or unglamorous, healthy or not as healthy—to be seen as special, as important, as worth defending.

REICHARD: Charles Horton is a WORLD Radio medical correspondent based in Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for joining us today!

HORTON: Thank you.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “AMA opposes physician-assisted suicide

  1. Paula Garcia says:

    This was a great article. The article on cancer treatment for pets was a fine article. But airing them back-to-back seemed a little off. In a world where many people treat their animals as if they were people, the idea that quality of life is more important than extending life for an animal could be muddied with the an application to people. The Biblical understanding that people are set apart in creation by being made in the image of God is too often overshadowed by evolutionary theory,

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