Compassion & Choices Lauds Medical Society of the State of New York for Voting to Survey Physicians on Medical Aid in Dying

April 24, 2017

Compassion & Choices New York campaign director Corinne Carey today lauded the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) House of Delegates decision to authorize a survey of physicians, medical residents and medical students.

“On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who support making medical aid in dying in New York legal, I want to thank the House of Delegates of the Medical Society of the State of New York and its leadership for the wise and inspired decision to survey physicians on medical aid in dying,” Carey said. “MSSNY has taken a giant step forward with this vote and I am convinced that the results of this survey will mirror similar surveys of physicians nationally and in other states – including Maryland and Colorado – and demonstrate strong support among New York’s doctors.”

Dr. Charles Rothberg, incoming President of MSSNY, said: “The Medical Society of the State of New York unanimously passed a resolution to develop a survey to determine physician attitudes regarding medical aid in dying. MSSNY’s Bioethics Committee will assist in the development of an unbiassed survey on this issue.”  The resolution was put forward by the Third District Branch (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties) and Fourth District Branch (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warrant, and Washington Counties) of MSSNY.

Among the reasons cited in the resolution are:

  • The legislation currently before the State Legislature: New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act (S3151/A2383), sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester).
  • A September 2015 poll of New Yorkers, commissioned by Compassion & Choices, found 77 percent support for allowing a terminally ill, mentally competent adult the option to request aid in dying medication.
  • Six states – Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado – and the District of Columbia currently authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill residents.
  • The experience from almost two decades of rigorously observed and documented experience in Oregon demonstrates that the law has worked as intended, with no evidence of abuse.
  • The New York State Academy of Family Physicians withdrew its opposition to medical aid in dying in favor of a neutral public policy stance at its 2016 Congress.
  • In response to a resolution introduced at the 2016 Annual House of Delegates Meeting, the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs is studying medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option, including consideration of data from states that currently authorize the practice and input from physicians who have provided medical aid-in-dying to qualifying patients.

Dr. Jay Federman, a North Country family physician, said: “I’ve witnessed dying patients suffering despite the best efforts of excellent physicians and those are memories that will stay with me – and with those patients’ families – a very long time. I’ve had many terminally ill patients express their desire to die peacefully, at a time and place of their choosing, surrounded by loved ones. It is certainly not the way everyone would choose, however, everyone should have that option. I am grateful to MSSNY for deciding we should hear how physicians feel about this very important issue.”

Approximately 30,000 licensed physicians, medical residents, and medical students in New York State are members of MSSNY. The MSSNY House of Delegates, which held its Annual Meeting April 21-23, includes representatives from sixty county medical societies, New York State medical specialty societies, medical and osteopathic schools, district branches and the special sections of the Medical Society membership (i.e. young physicians, resident physicians, medical students) and the elected leadership of MSSNY. The House of Delegates is the final authority on all MSSNY activities.

In December 2016, Medscape, a leading medical website offering the latest medical news and expert perspective for physicians and healthcare professionals, issued its “Medscape Ethics Report 2016: Life, Death, and Pain,” which found that “a growing number of US physicians now endorse the idea of physician-assisted dying for terminally ill patients.”  Currently, physicians support medical aid in dying by a 57-29 percent margin, up dramatically from 46-41 percent in 2010.

Dr. Heather Paladine, Chairwoman of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors, said:”Healthcare professional associations across the country are re-evaluating their positions on medical aid in dying in light of the states that have proposed bills and passed laws on this issue. The New York State Academy of Family Physicians discussed this complex issue at our annual Congress of Delegates meeting in June 2016, and voted to join the many state and city medical associations across the country that have taken a neutral position on legislation that would authorize medical aid in dying.”

“We look forward to the results of the MSSNY survey and I am convinced that the results will provide more momentum in our effort to provide New Yorkers with a law to authorize medical aid in dying in our state,” Carey said. “In addition to MSSNY, I also want to offer heartfelt thanks to the physicians who helped make this resolution a reality through their efforts and advocacy at county medical societies across New York.”

More information about Compassion & Choices NY’s efforts to pass medical aid in dying is available here. New Yorkers can voice their support for medical aid in dying with state legislators here.

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