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Medical Societies Change Stance

Changing established institutions can be a slow and difficult undertaking, but it’s necessary for real progress. The American healthcare system is one of these institutions, and Compassion & Choices has been working with physicians strategically for years to move it toward a more person-centered model — a hallmark of which is medical aid in dying. So after much perseverance, we’re thrilled to be seeing substantial shifts in the official positions of medical societies, powerful authorities on healthcare standards and practice across the nation.

As of press time, nine medical societies have dropped their long-held opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted neutral or supportive stances — eight of them since June 2015:

  • Oregon Medical Association (1994)
  • California Medical Association (2015)
  • New York State Academy of Family Physicians (2016)
  • Colorado Medical Society (2016)
  • Maryland State Medical Society (2016)
  • Medical Society of the District of Columbia (2016)
  • Nevada Medical Society (2017)
  • Maine Medical Association (2017)
  • Minnesota Medical Association (2017)  

The New York Academy of Family Physicians, in fact, moved from a neutral to supportive position on medical aid in dying this past summer, noting that a “position of neutrality can have negative consequences for patients and can be viewed as patient abandonment.” Dr. Sarah Nosal, president of the Academy, explained, “Supporting the authorization of medical aid in dying is commensurate with the family physician’s desire to empower our patients not only in their pursuit of wellness, their management of chronic disease, but also the alleviation of suffering when faced with a terminal illness.”  

Such turnarounds make room for the ever-growing number of doctors who support medical aid in dying — by two to one according to December 2016 Medscape polling data — and reduce barriers to access. Even more importantly, this increasing acceptance represents a sea shift in the political dynamics around our issues and will help improve the way care is delivered overall.

Doctors for Dignity, an initiative of Compassion & Choices, is a nationwide network of physicians who support patient autonomy at the end of life. To join Doctors for Dignity or to learn more, click here.