Complex issue

New policy statement on physician-assisted suicide defeated

The AOA HOD voted down the updated proposal after hearing the argument that it went against the osteopathic oath and state laws.

Recently, the AOA House of Delegates voted down a proposed policy statement on physician-assisted death. The new policy statement would have retained the AOA’s opposition to the legalization of physician-assisted death, but would have also stated that physicians who help their patients end their lives in states where it is legal shouldn’t be discriminated against.

Because the policy statement was disapproved, the AOA’s current policy opposing physician-assisted death and policy on end of life care will remain in place until they sunset in 2022.

Osteopathic oath concerns

“The primary concern was the wording we used in the task force report, which was physician-assisted death, to talk about the laws that had been passed,” says Anita Showalter, DO, a member of the end of life policy task force, which developed the new policy statement. “The consensus was that physician-assisted death is not compatible with the osteopathic oath.”

The AOA’s Public Affairs reference committee, which recommended disapproval, felt that the term physician-assisted suicide should be used rather than physician-assisted death, says Dr. Showalter, who also served on the Public Affairs committee. Additionally, the committee decided that the policy was not consistent across states because the law on physician-assisted suicide is different in many states.

“The House and reference committee made a clear statement that we are sticking with the traditional osteopathic values that are reflected in the osteopathic oath,” says Dr. Showalter. “It is the DO’s role to promote the health and wellbeing of a patient to their natural end. We do not see ourselves participating in hastening the death of a patient.”

Polarizing issue

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in seven states and Washington, DC, and another 23 states are considering legislation related to physician-assisted suicide at this time, according to deathwithdignity.org.

The topic is polarizing in the medical community. Many DOs share Dr. Showalter’s opinion, and many others, such as anesthesiologist Paul Rein, DO, believe physician-assisted suicide should be legal.

“First doing no harm does not necessarily mean you do everything you can to keep the patient’s heart beating,” says Dr. Rein, who practices in Williamsburg, Virginia, where physician-assisted suicide is illegal. “By doing that sometimes, we cause suffering, and suffering is harm.”

Further reading:

Physician groups revisiting stances on physician-assisted death

Physician-assisted death to get a closer look

3 comments

  1. Thanks Dr Showalter for your stance supporting our Osteopathic Oath. From a 16 yr Hospice Physician…comfort care yes…killing no.

  2. This is a step backwards, both in terminology and practice. The correct term is physician assisted death. Allowing a dying patient to choose the time and place of their death is not “killing.” Assisting a patient in their time of greatest need, *when appropriate*, is a challenging but important responsibility. No physician is required to participate in this process, but to bar those who would is to substitute your own morality for that of your patient, or in this case, someone else’s patient.

  3. Physician assisted suicide is an unnatural and untimely death. Passing legislation that permits this process is both dangerous to patients, and dangerous to the medical community. You have only to look at the trends in Europe to see this. True “physician assisted death” is what palliative care is all about. Palliative care should be expanded and promoted. Thank you Dr Showalter and the AOA!!

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