Doctors and Euthanasia
Length: 498 words (1.4 double-spaced pages)
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During the debate in 1995-7 over the Northern Territory's temporary legalization of euthanasia, the Australian Medical Association was a major factor in convincing the nation's parliament to reverse the law. Canadian doctors watched with great interest the national debate in the United States leading up to the Supreme Court decision of June of '97. The considered position of the Canadian Medical Society was quite clear. It opposed any form of euthanasia. The British Medical Association also opposed (July 1997) by an overwhelming margin.
The British Medical Association considered the issue again on April 3, 2000 in a two-day conference and again rejected physician-assisted suicide. To quote: "This conference has firmly rejected any move to change the law on physician-assisted suicide. This may appear to be a simple reaffirmation of existing law and policy, but behind this decision lies two days of intense and thorough debate. This consensus statement is remarkable for the fact that delegates, with fundamentally and diametrically opposing views on end of life issues, were able to agree on a position with which all felt comfortable."
The House of Lords of the British Parliament entered this fray wit a clear position in favor the the Dutch euthanasia program. Properly, however, a committee went to the Netherlands and exhaustively evaluated the program (Select). This resulted in the complete reversal of the initial holding by every member of that committee. Responding to those findings, the British House of Lords then came out with a strong statement opposed to the Dutch euthanasia program (Report).
Meanwhile there was a major struggle in the United States. After two federal appeals courts ruled in favor of doctor-assisted suicide, the issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Medical Association took a very strong stand. Not only did it state that it opposed euthanasia, and specifically doctor-assisted suicide, but it moved very aggressively. It submitted two amicus curiae briefs to the U.S.Supreme Court (Briefs).Co-authored with them were 51 other major health-related organizations. Its position was rooted in the belief that such an act as euthanasia is "fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer"(Assisted)
It detailed the fact that the state had an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.
It detailed the distinction between a patient's right to self-determination in ending care versus the intentional killing of a patient.
Assisted Suicide's Fate, American Medical News, July 21, 1997, p.3
Brief of American Medical Assn, Amer. Nurses Assn, Amer. Psychiatric Assn. et alii in State of Washington v. Glucksberg, Nov. 12, 1996, #96-110, from AMA, 515 N.State St., Chicago, IL 60610
- - -,in Vacco v. Quill, Nov.12, 1996, #95-1858
Report of the Select Committee on Medical Ethics, vol.1, London, 31 Jan. 1994, 236-241
Select Committee on Medical Ethics of the British House of Lords