End-of-life care

Physician-assisted death to get a closer look

A task force will consider whether current AOA policy, which opposes physician-assisted death, should be updated.


The AOA House of Delegates recently approved a resolution that calls for the association’s Department of Public Affairs to research the ethics of physician-assisted death, also known as physician-assisted suicide and physician aid in dying.

After considering the current literature and state laws concerning physician-assisted death, the department will discuss whether AOA policy should be changed and will report its findings to the 2018 AOA House of Delegates.

Current AOA policy on physician-assisted death states that the association opposes laws that legalize individual physician participation. It also urges the osteopathic medical profession to provide patients with information on alternatives. This policy was originally passed in 1997 and reaffirmed this year.

Hot topic

In 2014, physician-assisted death captured the national news spotlight when Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, moved from California to Oregon to lawfully pursue a prescription for medication that would end her life. Maynard explained her decision publicly via news reports and a video that received nearly 12 million views on YouTube.

Physician-assisted death is now legal in six states (Washington, California, Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Vermont) and the District of Columbia. An additional 30 state legislatures will consider legalizing physician-assisted death this year, according to Death with Dignity. Policy regarding physician-assisted death has rapidly shifted in recent years: California and Colorado legalized it last year, while DC legalized it this year.

Read more in The DO about physician-assisted death and end-of-life care:

When patients look to you to help themselves die

End-of-life care: We’re doing it wrong, experts say

How to provide better end-of-life care

‘Nobody lives forever’: DOs share their end-of-life care preferences


  1. Al Turner, DO

    “Physician Assisted Death” or Suicide implies an active role by the physician and is still illegal in all 50 states. On the other hand “Death with Dignity” or “Right to Die” imply a passive role by the physician, who under a rigid set of criteria affords the patient the right to chose the time, place, and circumstances of their own death. The physician is providing the patient with a more human alternative to taking rat poison, or drinking anti-freeze, or Drano, which is a very undignified way to go, can get very messy, and is not assured in the end. Please STOP referring to this as “Physician Assisted” anything and accept that when the time comes, everyone has the right to die and it is unethical to force them to live any longer.

    1. Dr. Bob, DO

      A physician prescribing medications with the intent of ending a life is playing an active role. Prescribing medications or methods to end life is assisting, therefore it is physician assisted regardless of how you want to manipulate the truth.

    2. Concerned professional

      Respectfully, the distinction you make is actually regarding euthanasia, which is not what opponents OR most advocates are typically referring to. Clearly there are differences in view point here but let’s make sure the debate is on the grounds of the actual meaning of the language being used.

  2. Dr Susan Payson

    Our ethics are NOT shape able by states passing laws or random journal articles/promotions. If they are…then just let politicians and lobbyists set our standards for us.

  3. Lorree Ratto

    This issue is more about the patient’s “right” to die and not about the physician’s “right” to assist or interfere. The physician always has the “right” to decline to become involved in the process – much like they have the “right” not to perform an abortion. Could we focus more on this issue as it pertains to patient rights and autonomy and less on a physician’s personal or profession ethical concerns.

    1. Concerned physician

      Anyone who thinks they will be able to refuse once the practice is “accepted” based on religious or personal preferences has their eyes half closed. And while the following example deals with a totally non applicable subject here, I submit the example that one needs only to look at the cake bakers who refused the wedding cake to a gay couple based on religious beliefs and were professionally/financially and publicly ruined. Yes, you may refuse, but kiss your career and your life goodbye once it’s “accepted.”

  4. Gregory Funk

    We have taken an Oath, since it has been violated with abortion society has deteriorated so far valuing life. This will be a further assault against our Oath. When our Oaths are not kept and the most educated revered leaders of preserving health and life are failing in their duty…… who reveres them, no one in society, and surely not themselves when they look in the mirror. Happiness is doing the right thing…. physians killing people is not our roll. That would be the roll of an Executioner, not a Physician. Who and what are You? To be both is schizophrenic.

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