The American Medical Association could cast a historic vote this week on two resolutions to change their position on medical aid in dying from “opposed” to “neutral.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) will cast a historic vote this week at their annual meeting in Maryland on November 10-14, 2023 on two resolutions that could change its position on medical aid in dying (MAID) from “opposed” to “neutral.” They are three decades late, but as Death with Dignity CEO Peg Sandeen, PhD MSW explains, it’s better late than never:

“While the AMA has been largely absent from clinical discussions and advancements in medical aid in dying over the past 30 years, there is plenty of time and opportunity for the institution to take up its appropriate leadership role,” says Sandeen.

The AMA established its position against MAID in 1993, before the passage of the first Death with Dignity law in the U.S. Even after 30 years of advancements in the medical practice of MAID, the AMA continues to emphasize moral principles and incorrect use of language over clinical procedures.

For example, the AMA’s Medical Code of Ethics states “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer.” During the final stages of life, patients don’t need moral platitudes, they need options.

Despite sporadic efforts to modernize the Code of Medical Ethics since their original stance, their stubborn opposition has profoundly affected patient care and physicians practicing Death with Dignity in legal jurisdictions. Peg Sandeen reminds us that, “Seventy-two million individuals in the U.S. live in a jurisdiction permitting qualified terminally ill patients to access Death with Dignity, and they deserve the highest quality health care this country can provide. They deserve options when they have no more medical treatments or choices available to them, and they deserve to receive care from physicians trained and following standards of exemplary clinical practice.” 

The role of the AMA is to provide clinical guidance on best practices in medicine, to support physicians in the development of standards of care, and to provide policy guidance. In what can only be described as a complete abandonment of their responsibility to offer physicians clinical guidance on MAID, smaller national and state medical associations have stepped up.  State medical associations that have endorsed or taken a neutral position on MAID include the American Nurses Association of California, New York State Academy of Family Physicians, Vermont Medical Society, and Washington State Psychological Association.

Other organizations, like the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying have emerged as a standout resource for physicians, offering essential support such as pharmacological recommendations, a dedicated clinicians’ hotline, and the forthcoming Journal of Aid-in-Dying Medicine. 

It could not be more clear that now is the time for the AMA to do the right thing, and help ensure that dying patients can access the vital end-of-life care options they deserve. 

Update: During the 2023 AMA Interim Meeting in Baltimore, the two resolutions discussed above were considered and ultimately referred for further study. The resolutions are expected to see additional action at the AMA’s Annual Meeting, which is currently scheduled for June 8 – 12 in Chicago. Stay tuned for further updates as we learn more and approach the Annual Meeting.