Doctors should not be involved in euthanasia: AMA


Medical group maintains position that doctors should not be involved in interventions that serve to end a person’s life

The Australian Medical Association today released its updated position statement on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

It is the result of a year-long policy review by the AMA, including a survey of 4000 members which found:

  • 50% agreed that doctors should not be involved in euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide
  • 38% disagreed and said they should be involved in euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide
  • 12% neither agreed or disagreed

In the position statement, the AMA maintains that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life.

“This does not include the discontinuation of treatments that are of no medical benefit to a dying patient. This is not euthanasia,” says AMA president Dr Michael Gannon.

However the group acknowledges that laws in relation to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are ultimately a matter for society and government.

They also express concern that that requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide may be associated with conditions such as depression, dementia or mental disorders.

“The compassionate care of dying patients is the priority of every doctor. Doctors have an ethical duty to care for dying patients so that they can die in comfort and with dignity,” says Dr Gannon.

“We are always there to provide compassionate care for each of our dying patients so they can end the last chapter of their lives without suffering.”

He has called on federal and state government to “do all they can” to improve end-of-life care for Australians and properly resource palliative care services.

The new position statement comes one week after the South Australian Parliament knocked back a voluntary euthanasia bill.

While a conscience vote on the Death with Dignity bill from Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge was tied at 23 votes for and against, the speaker then used his casting vote to decide against the bill.

The ongoing debate surrounding legislation has prompted people to share their personal stories about the frustration of trying to access voluntary euthanasia for ageing or very sick family members.

Passive voluntary euthanasia – the withholding or withdrawing medical treatment – currently occurs in Australia under various circumstances and regulations.

However in its position statement, the AMA specifically rules out active voluntary euthanasia – when medical intervention takes place, at the patient’s request, in order to end the patient’s life.

The statement explains: “If a doctor acts in accordance with good medical practice, the following forms of management at the end of life do not constitute euthanasia or physician assisted suicide:

  • not initiating life-prolonging measures;
  • not continuing life-prolonging measures;
  • the administration of treatment or other action intended to relieve symptoms which may have a secondary consequence of hastening death.”

As the Australian Human Rights Commission points out, “The acceptance of the practice of passive voluntary euthanasia, however defined, is in stark contrast to the practice of ‘active’ voluntary euthanasia.”

Sources:

Australian Medical Association Position Statement – Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide 2016

Death with Dignity Bill 2016, South Australia

Euthanasia, human rights and the law: Issues paper 2016, Australian Human Rights Commission

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