WALTHAM, MA–Compassion & Choices praised the Massachusetts Medical Society for dropping its longtime opposition to legislation giving terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering.
The society’s House of Delegates voted to adopt a new position of “neutral engagement” on Saturday, one day after the release on Friday of a survey of the society’s members which showed they supported medical aid-in-dying legislation the state legislature is considering by a 2-1 margin.
“If medical aid-in-dying is legalized, the MMS [Massachusetts Medical Society] will support its members with clinical and legal considerations through education, advocacy and other resources, regardless of whether the member physician chooses to practice medical aid-in-dying,” said Massachusetts Medical Society news release announcing the decision.
“I am excited about this decision because the legislature greatly respects the medical society’s positions of healthcare issues and its previous opposition to medical aid in dying was a serious roadblock to passing legislation authorizing this end-of-life care option,” said Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired Internist in Falmouth living with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Compassion & Choices asserting the Massachusetts constitution and existing state law already authorize medical aid in dying. “I’m extremely grateful for the society’s change of heart.”
The District of Columbia Council and Colorado voters passed a medical aid-in-dying law in 2016 and the California legislature did so in 2015 after their local American Medical Association chapters dropped their opposition to this end-of-life care option and adopted neutral positions.
“This decision definitely improves the chances of passing the End of Life Options Act (H.1194/S.1225),” said Marie Manis, Massachusetts campaign manager for Compassion & Choices. “Now our job is to redouble our efforts to urge lawmakers to take action on behalf of their constituents who want the option of medical aid in dying.”
The Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on the End of Life Options Act on Sept. 26 when it heard from more than 25 supporters, including family members of loved ones who died with needless suffering, faith and legislative leaders, hospice and medical professionals, and social workers. The legislative deadline for the committee to take action on the bill is Feb. 7.
The Massachusetts Medical Society is the 10th American Medical Association chapter that has dropped its opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted a neutral stance on the practice, including nine of them in the last two years. The others are the California Medical Association in 2015, Colorado Medical Society in 2016, Maryland State Medical Society in 2016, Medical Society of the District of Columbia in 2016, Maine Medical Association in 2017, Minnesota Medical Association in 2017, Nevada State Medical Association in 2017, Oregon Medical Association in 1997 and Vermont in 2017.
“Massachusetts’ ‘neutral engagement’ position is even better than a simply neutral position,” said Rebecca Thoman, M.D., campaign manager for Doctors for Dignity for Compassion & Choices. “It means if Massachusetts enacts a medical aid-in-dying law, the medical society will offer education and guidance to physicians who want to incorporate medical aid in dying into their practices.”
Six states have explicitly authorized medical aid in dying California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, along with the District of Columbia. Collectively, these seven jurisdictions represent 18 percent of the nation’s population and have 40 years of combined experience of safely using this end-of-life care option.
A number of national and state polls show strong support for medical aid in dying among both U.S. physicians and Americans across the ethnic, political and religious spectrum.