Physician support is a vital component of passing and implementing medical aid-in-dying laws, and according to two recent online surveys by Medscape, it’s only been growing in recent years. Medscape’s latest online survey found that 58 percent of 300 doctors in states without medical aid-in-dying laws said they had been in a situation in which they “wished the patient could have taken advantage of such a practice.” The previous Medscape survey in fall 2016 found 57% out of more than 7,500 physicians from 25 specialities nationwide said medical aid in dying should be an option for mentally capable, terminally ill patients, an increase from 54 percent in 2014 and 46 percent in 2010.
Polling data isn’t the only evidence of a tidal change in physicians’ attitudes toward medical aid in dying. In the past year, eight medical societies have voted to take neutral or supportive positions on this end-of-life care option. Physicians are standing up for their patients in authorized jurisdictions like Colorado and the District of Columbia (Colorado Medical Society and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia), and in states where the option is being debated, like Nevada and Maine (the Nevada State Medical Association and Maine Medical Association).
Sometimes, the fight to authorize aid in dying is personal for physicians. Dr. Roger Kligler,an outspoken advocate for medical aid in dying in his home state of Massachusetts, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Compassion & Choices arguing that existing state laws and the state constitution authorize medical aid in dying. He also lobbied the Massachusetts Medical Society to survey current members on the topic, which passed at the end of 2016. For him, the issue is crucial, as he has metastatic, incurable prostate cancer.
When he spoke to Medscape this July, Dr. Kligler argued that authorizing medical aid in dying can spur end-of-life care discussions between terminally ill adults, their families and doctor, increasing the use of hospice and palliative care. He concluded: “Please put yourself in my shoes and ask what options you would want for you or your family members having a difficult death.”