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Compassion & Choices Praises American Academy of Neurology for Dropping Opposition to Medical Aid in Dying

Becomes latest national medical association to adopt neutral position on medical aid in dying

Rebecca Thoman, MD, campaign manager for Doctors for Dignity for Compassion & Choices

Compassion & Choices praised the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) for announcing last week it is dropping its longtime opposition to legislation giving terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying. Medical aid in dying gives mentally capable, terminally ill individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and self-ingest medication to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable.

According to the AAN position paper, the decision “was influenced by the results of a 2014 AAN-sponsored Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee survey that suggested that a notable percentage of AAN members might feel bound by conscience
to comply with the wishes of their dying patients for assistance in hastening death” (i.e., medical aid in dying). The survey showed that more than 70 percent of responding members from states where medical aid in dying is authorized endorsed the practice of “lawful physician hastened death (LPHD) as an “ethically permissible behavior.” In addition, more than 50 percent of these same individuals reported that “they would be willing to assist their patients in hastened death.”

After deliberation of the Committee’s recommendations by the AAN Board of Directors, the AAN position paper states:

” …the AAN has decided to leave the decision of whether to practice or not to practice LPHD to the conscientious judgment of its members acting on behalf of their adult patients dying of neurologic illness.”

“The American Academy of Neurology is to be commended for supporting choice for their members who participate in ‘lawful physician-hastened death’ when acting on the behalf of their patients,” said Robert Varipapa, MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, Bayhealth, Kent Campus, Secretary and Board Member of the Medical Society of Delaware and member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Neurology. “The Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee did not consider this issue lightly, taking two years to carefully deliberate this important policy change.” (The views expressed in this quote are Dr. Varipapa’s and do not necessarily represent those of the American Academy of Neurology, American Medical Association and Medical Society of Delaware).

“The American Academy of Neurology’s new position is the latest in a marked movement within the medical community regarding medical aid in dying over the past several years,” said Rebecca Thoman, MD, campaign manager for Doctors for Dignity for Compassion & Choices. “The American Academy of Neurology’s new position is especially relevant because patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like ALS are the most likely to seek the option of medical aid in dying to ensure they can die peacefully. More and more professional societies are acknowledging the primacy of patient-centered care, especially at the end of life, including medical aid in dying.”

Medical aid in dying is authorized in the District of Columbia and six states whose collective population represents nearly one in five Americans: California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State. These seven jurisdictions have more than 40 years of combined experience of safely using this medical practice.

Numerous other medical and health groups have dropped their opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted a neutral position. They include: the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Pharmacists Association, Oncology Nursing Association, California Medical Association, California Hospice and Palliative Care Association, Colorado Medical Society, Maine Medical Association, Maryland State Medical Society, Massachusetts Medical Society, Medical Society of the District of Columbia, Minnesota Medical Association, Missouri Hospice & Palliative Care Association, Nevada State Medical Association, Oregon Medical Association, Vermont Medical Society, Hospice and Palliative Care Council of Vermont, and Washington State Psychological Association.

In addition, six national medical groups have endorsed medical aid in dying, including: the American College of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association, American Medical Women’s Association, American Nurses Association of California, American Public Health Association, GLMA: Healthcare Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, and New York State Academy of Family Physicians.