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National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Release Medical Aid-in-Dying Workshop Proceedings

By Alyson Lynch, Communications Coordinator, Compassion & Choices

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released their findings from a February workshop on medical aid in dying called “Physician Assisted Death: Scanning the Landscape.” Participants included bioethicists, physicians, academics and advocates on both sides of the issue. The workshop focused on answering questions about patient access to medical aid in dying, the expansion of jurisdictions where it is authorized and challenges in data collection about this medical practice, among many other topics.

Dan Diaz, the husband of Brittany Maynard, who utilized Oregon’s medical aid-in-dying law in 2014 and set off a nationwide movement to pass similar laws, kicked off the conference by speaking about Brittany’s experience. He included a message from Brittany, that “medical aid in dying is not at odds with palliative care or hospice.”

The final panel of the day included Dr. Omega Silva, professor emeritus of medicine at George Washington University and a patient advocate in Washington D.C., and Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices. Dr. Silva told stories of the difficult deaths of friends and stressed that physicians need better and earlier education about end-of-life care issues. She said, “We should have an early introduction to the concept of death in medical school, in the medical school curriculum, and easy referral to those topics throughout specialty training and into practice, including hospice and palliative care.”

Compassion & Choices CEO Kim Callinan focused on clarifying misconceptions that had been raised throughout the conference. Specifically, she clarified that nearly all demographic groups, including the Latino and African-American communities, support medical aid in dying. Callinan shared that national polling of Latinos finds support for medical aid in dying on par with their white counterparts, and Latino leaders like famed civil and labor rights leader Dolores Huerta and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos have voiced their support for this option. She also communicated that support in the African-American community can be demonstrated by the passage of legislation in the District of Columbia with the support of five of the six African-American D.C. council members.

Callinan asserted that you should not single out medical aid in dying as the only end-of-life care option to be researched. If research is to be conducted, it should be done across the entire spectrum of options, ranging from hospice to palliative sedation.

“Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, palliative sedation, withdrawal of medicine, hospice … there’s nothing [in terms of research] that’s taking place on those medical practices,” said Callinan. “And I would actually argue that those medical practices are often more dangerous than medical aid in dying … With medical aid and dying, you have 15 different regulatory protections that are put in place … singling that out says to the patient that your value is somehow different and isn’t okay.” Callinan also argued that too much data collection could deter doctors from the practice. You can watch Callinan’s full speech at bit.ly/KimCNAS.

To read the full workshop proceedings, go here.