AMA to vote this week on whether ethical guidance should be revised

The American Medical Association's House of Delegates will vote this week on whether the organization's Code of Medical Ethics should be revised, particularly with regard to the association's stance on physician-assisted suicide, according to The Washington Post.

While six states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medically assisted death, the practice remains a divisive issue among physicians both within and outside of the AMA. The organization has maintained the same guidance for the past 25 years, stating, "Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks," the report states.

However, the organization's decision to reconsider their stance indicates the issue's increasing prominence in today's society, according to Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and founding chief of the division of medical ethics at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

"The mere fact that they're considering it again tells you that it's a changing climate. The reality is there are many more doctors in the AMA, but also outside the AMA, who have changed their minds about this," Dr. Caplan said, adding that opinions about physician-assisted suicide will "continue to evolve."

The AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has spent the past two years reviewing resolutions on whether the organization should take a more neutral stance on physician-assisted suicide. However, the council has reportedly recommended the organization's Code of Medical Ethics "not be amended," according to The Washington Post.

An open forum on the AMA's website indicates many physicians, delegates and others have shown strong support for leaving the organization's ethical code and stance on physician-assisted suicide as is. However, many Americans disagree with that notion. Six months after a terminally ill woman moved from California to Portland, Ore., to utilize the state's Death with Dignity Act in 2014, 7 out of 10 Americans said physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in their decision to end their lives, according to a 2015 Gallup poll.

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