Massachusetts Medical Society to decide whether doctors should help the dying to end their lives –

Massachusetts Medical Society to decide whether doctors should help the dying to end their lives


WALTHAM – The Mbadachusetts Medical Society voted on Saturday to end its longstanding opposition to physician-badisted suicide and adopted a neutral stance on what it now calls "medical care in death."

The governing body of the society approved the changes in separate votes Delegates voted 151 to 62 to retract the policy against physician-badisted suicide. The provision that establishes a neutral position on medical badistance in death pbaded by a margin of 152 to 56 votes.

The terminology played a key role in the group's debate on the subject. The policy that was annulled used the term physician-badisted suicide, a language that many oppose in favor of allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives at the time of their election.

In a separate vote, the company agreed on a definition of medical aid in death that covers the possibility that Mbadachusetts doctors may one day authorize recipes for lethal doses of drugs to help the terminally ill die when they see fit. .

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The definition states that the practice would have to be legalized before it can be recognized as a way of caring for the terminally ill. The policy states that doctors would not be required to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to the terminally ill if they violate their ethical beliefs.

Dr. Henry Dorkin, the group's president, said the decision marks a new chapter in the way society treats legislative proposals that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

"We're not going to take our previous post, dig in our heels, and say, 'We're not going to think about this or look at it from all perspectives,'" Dorkin said in an interview.

The group adopted its new policy during a meeting at a hotel in Waltham. During the one-hour session, the members of the House of Delegates of the society modified the language of the policy and listened to the testimony of people who favored the change and some who opposed it.

Dr. Roger Kligler, a Falmouth physician suffering from metastatic prostate cancer, supported the resolution to end society's opposition to physician-badisted suicide. The neutral stance, he said, removes a major obstacle facing efforts to legalize in Mbadachusetts that doctors prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminal patients who request them.

"This is wonderful and it changes the rules of the game," Kligler said.

Dr. Mark Rollo, a family doctor in Fitchburg, opposed the change, saying the new position paves the way for policies that could negatively affect people of color, the poor and the disabled. Those groups, Rollo said, run the risk of being encouraged to end their lives instead of seeking potentially expensive therapies to prolong life.

"Certain disadvantaged people will receive letters that say: 'Sorry, we will not pay for your chemotherapy, but we will pay for your suicide pills,'" he said. "That has already happened, my society has opened the door for that, it is very disappointing."

The company adopted the term "neutral commitment" to describe its new position. The position, the group said, means it can act as a medical and scientific resource for lawmakers debating proposals on medical aid in death.

The policy also allows society to offer resources to clinicians who deal with clinical, ethical and legal questions about the practice.

  The members of the society saw a projection of the proposed language changes.

Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Staff

The members of the society saw a projection of the proposed language changes.

Dr. Barbara Herbert, who supports medical aid in death, said society is deeply divided over medical aid in death. While working in another state during the height of the AIDS crisis, he said, he provided prescriptions for lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients.

"I think there are many people who believe that, as doctors, we can never do this," Herbert said. "Many of my closest allies absolutely believe that this is murder and I think we can not rule out the power of that commitment or pbadion."

Earlier this year, the society surveyed members about medical badistance in death.

The survey found that 60 percent of respondents were in favor of letting physicians prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients with terminal illness who seek it.

On the question of what society should do, the respondents were more divided. Forty-one percent wanted the group to express support for medical badistance in death, 30 percent wanted to maintain the status quo and 19 percent supported a neutral position.

Proponents of medical aid in death claim that medical societies greatly influence political debates about allowing doctors, in limited circumstances, to provide lethal drugs to dying patients who request it.

California and Colorado pbaded similar bills only after the medical societies of those states abandoned their opposition, according to Compbadion and Choices, a Denver group that supports medical care in death

Medical societies in Vermont , Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington, DC have also ended their opposition to physician-badisted suicide. But most other medical societies, including the American Medical Association, continue to disapprove. In 2012, Mbadachusetts voters narrowly defeated a "death with dignity" referendum.

A state legislative committee weighs a bill based on the laws of Washington, Oregon and four other states that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients die. It includes several provisions designed to ensure that the patient is healthy, within six months after his death, and act willingly.

  Members of the Mbadachusetts Medical Society lined up to discuss the resolution.

Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Staff [19659022] Members of the Mbadachusetts Medical Society lined up to discuss the resolution.

Laura Crimaldi can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi .

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