On Tuesday, October 9, 2018 delegates of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) approved a substitute resolution to adopt a position of "engaged neutrality" toward medical aid in dying as a personal end-of-life decision in the context of the physician-patient relationship.
AAFP President Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kansas says, "The action taken today allows the AAFP to advocate for engaged neutrality on this subject at future AMA House of Delegates meetings. Through our ongoing and continuous relationship with our patients, family physicians are well-positioned to counsel patients on end-of-life care, and we are engaged in creating change in the best interest of our patients."
This stance puts them at odds with the American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics which states: “Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.”
The substitute resolution also calls on the AAFP to reject use of the phrase "assisted suicide" or "physician-assisted suicide" in its own formal communications and to direct the Academy's delegation to the AMA to promote the same action in the House of Delegates.
"We have to understand the power of family physicians," he said. "We have an ethical, personal role in our patients' lives. We can't be opposed to something that some people think is valuable. I think we have to have a more neutral stake in this difficult area. We have to understand the power of family physicians," says Arnold Pallay, M.D., AAFP delegate from Montville, New Jersey.
The Vermont Medical Society (VMS) has already adopted a neutral position on medical aid in dying, in recognition that it is legal in Vermont and that many Vermont doctors and their patients have already participated in the Act 39 process. The VMS policy may be found at http://www.vtmd.org/sites/default/files/2017End-of-Life-Care.pdf.
We understand that Vermont doctors participated in the AAFP meeting and urged adoption of the new policy.
“As prominent national organizations like AAFP recognize the legitimate and very personal nature of a decision to use medical aid in dying, we will increasingly solidify end-of-life choice and the comfort it provides, “ says Betsy Walkerman, President of Patient Choices Vermont. “We are pleased that Vermont’s careful and measured approach to medical aid in dying is contributing positively to changes like this on the national level.”