WALTHAM, MA– Massachusetts doctors support legislation giving terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering by a 2-1 margin, according to a survey released at the Massachusetts Medical Society interim meeting.
The survey was released before a discussion by the society’s Reference Committee whether to recommend that the House of Delegates vote on Saturday to drop the society’s longtime opposition to medical aid in dying and adopt a stance of ‘engaged neutrality.’
“A position of engaged neutrality respects the fact that physicians of good conscience can have opposite opinions on medical aid in dying,” 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. “It also respects terminally ill patients, by not infringing on their autonomy to make their own healthcare decisions at the end of life, in consultation with their doctors, loved ones and spiritual leaders.”
“Based on our experience in other states, this vote is a very positive sign that the medical society will adopt a position of engaged neutrality that could ease passage of the End of Life Options Act (H.1194/S.1225),” said Marie Manis, Massachusetts campaign manager for Compassion & Choices.
The Colorado Medical Society adopted a neutral position on medical aid in dying in 2016 after its members voted in favor of the option of medical aid in dying, 56% vs. 35%. Subsequently, Colorado voters approved the End of Life Options Act by 65% vs. 35% in Nov. 2016. The California legislature enacted the End of Life Option Act into law in 2015 after the California Medical Association dropped its longtime opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted a neutral position.
“If the medical society adopts a position of engaged neutrality, it’s important because if the state enacts a medical aid-in-dying law, the medical society will provide training to physicians who want to offer this option to their terminally ill patients,” said Rebecca Thoman, M.D., campaign manager for Doctors for Dignity for Compassion & Choices.
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.
The key survey results are below:
● By a 2-1 margin, Massachusetts physicians (60%) said they strongly support (29%) or support (31%) “medical aid in dying…the practice of physicians giving terminally-ill adults prescriptions for lethal medications, to be self-administered at such time as the patient sees fit” vs. oppose or strongly oppose this end-of-life care option (30%).
● By a more than 2-1 margin, physicians (62%) said they strongly support (27%) or support (35%) “proposed ’aid-in-dying legislation’ in Massachusetts, ‘an Act relative to end of life options’ (House bill 1194/Senate bill 1225)” vs. oppose or strongly oppose the legislation (28%).
● By a 2-1 margin, Massachusetts physicians (60%) either favored changing the current MMS policy opposing medical aid in dying to supporting this end-of-life care option (41%) or neither formally supporting nor opposing it (19%) vs maintaining the current MMS policy of opposing it (30%).
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. Compassion & Choices is the oldest nonprofit working to improve care and expand options for the end of life in the United States, with 450,000 supporters nationwide.