Physician Practice

More states adopt physician aid-in-dying laws

Physician Practice Insider, September 6, 2016

More physicians are being asked to provide aid-in-dying services for terminally ill patients, something that brings up a host of ethical and logistical concerns many physicians have never had to deal with before.

The issue has been a hot topic this year in California, where the new End of Life Option Act went into effect June 9. California became the fifth state to approve a death-with-dignity law and modeled its new policy after a similar law in Oregon, which in 1997 was the first state to adopt physician-assisted suicide legislation.

The debut of the law puts California family physicians in a position where they may be asked to help terminally ill patients end their lives or—if they decide to opt out of the law—refer patients to hospice or to another physician who chooses to take part in the aid-in-dying law. Based on data from other states with similar laws, though, few terminally ill patients actually request aid in dying from their physicians.

Physician organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have traditionally opposed physician-assisted suicide but have taken a hands-off approach in states that have passed laws allowing the practice. Since aid in dying is still a policy that’s acted on at the state level, the leadership at both organizations leaves the decision-making to individual physicians in the states that choose to adopt death-with-dignity laws.

“The AAFP’s stance aligns closely with that of the AMA, which says physician-assisted suicide is incompatible with a physician’s role as a healer,” says Robert Wergin, MD, chairman of the board for the AAFP in Leawood, Kansas. “But we also say that it’s up to every physician to make their own decision in states where these laws are passed.”

This article was originally published in Physician Practice Perspectives. Subscribers can read the full article in the August 2016 issue.

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