Doctors for Dignity Bulletin – January 2017
We sent the following email, part of a monthly series, to our Doctors for Dignity:
Support for medical aid in dying continues to climb among physicians.
Since 2010, when Medscape first began surveying U.S. physicians on their attitudes toward medical aid in dying, support has grown every year while opposition has declined. In its 2016 ethics report, Medscape found that 57% of physicians now support physician-assisted death for terminally ill patients (as compared to 46% in 2010 and 54% in 2014). Opposition has declined from 41% in 2010 to 29% in 2016.
Physicians are catching up to the general public, which has solidly supported medical aid in dying since 1997.
This is important for the movement for end-of-life choice, since doctors are some of the most influential voices in legislative debates about medical aid in dying.
This month, Doctors for Dignity Manager Rebecca Thoman, M.D. answers the following:
Q: Isn’t medical aid in dying a slippery slope to euthanasia as it is practiced in Belgium and the Netherlands?
A: The concept of a slippery slope implies that, over time, the statutory guidelines for medical aid in dying will be either liberalized by elected officials or disregarded with impunity by practitioners. Both assumptions are incorrect. Since Oregon’s law took effect in 1997, there has been no attempt to broaden the scope of the law and no physician has been disciplined for practicing outside the scope of the law. Almost two decades of rigorously observed and documented experience in Oregon demonstrates that the law has worked as intended with no evidence of abuse.
Slippery slope claims with regard to European countries are also misapplied. “Euthanasia” laws in Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, are less restrictive than American laws, but did not “slide” to their current form. Rather, the individual laws were developed with guidelines that differ from Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (e.g. no self-administration requirement) in place from the law’s conception. While anecdotal stories of abuse of “euthanasia” laws abound, research indicates that cancer accounts for more than 70% of all cases of “euthanasia” in both Belgium and the Netherlands.
This article from the Annals of Internal Medicine argues that medical associations, regardless of their positions on medical aid in dying, must engage on the subject in order to meet the needs of our patients and our communities.
Thanks, again, for all you did to make 2016 a success. We’re looking forward to a busy 2017.
Rebecca Thoman, M.D.
Manager, Doctors for Dignity