Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Disability Advocates Concerned as AMA Refers Assisted Suicide Policy for More Study

For Immediate Release: June 11, 2018

Diane Coleman 708-420-0539
Marilyn Golden 510-549-9339

Disability rights advocates led by Not Dead Yet are concerned with the American Medical Association’s decision today to continue studying the issue of physician assisted suicide. While the AMA’s longstanding policy against assisted suicide still stands, a simple affirmation of the policy was defeated in a 46-53% vote.

The current AMA policy states, in essential part:

“[P]ermitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately 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.”
Two years ago, some AMA members raised the possibility of taking a neutral stance on the issue, and the matter was referred to the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. After two years of study, the Council recommended that the AMA maintain its policy opposing assisted suicide, but this recommendation was not accepted and the matter was referred back for further study.
“We had hoped that the AMA would follow the Council’s lead and affirm current policy once and for all,” said Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a national disability organization. “Assisted suicide proponents have repeatedly tried to make this a culture war issue, ignoring the strong opposition of the AMA and other medical organizations, as well as numerous national disability organizations. But we’ll keep fighting for this critical protection for patients.”
The top three concerns raised by disability advocates in opposing assisted suicide bills have been:
  • If insurers deny, or even merely delay, expensive live-saving treatment, the person will be steered toward assisted suicide. Will insurers do the right thing, or the cheap thing? 
  • Elder abuse, and abuse of people with disabilities, are a rising problem. Where assisted suicide is legal, an heir (someone who stands to inherit from the patient) or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug — no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? 
  • Diagnoses of terminal illness are often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives, and endangering people with disabilities, people with chronic illness, and other people misdiagnosed as terminally ill.
Coleman has analyzed the Oregon state assisted suicide data and found that it substantiates a number of their concerns. This information was included in Not Dead Yet’s second of two formal submissions to the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.
“If assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes, coercion and abuse,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “No safeguards have ever been enacted or even proposed, that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”

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