The American Academy of Family Physicians just completed it’s Congress of Delegates’ meeting in New Orleans. In a major change, it’s delegates voted to formally begin using the term “medical aid in dying” and reject the term “physician-assisted suicide.” They are also taking a position of “engaged neutrality” and are urging the American Medical Association to take the same steps.

This is important for many reasons, one of which is that physicians in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are able to choose if they will participate in their jurisdiction’s aid in dying law. Since doctors need information about the laws, how to access information about them and how to work with patients who request it, hopefully a stance of engaged neutrality will allow for national best practices based on research to provide guidance. Right now, there is a quiet sharing of information but moving forward it is important that doctors that have participated will be able to openly mentor colleagues who are interested in learning more. Additionally, rejecting the stigma attached to the term suicide in this end of life option is an important step in furthering dialogue.

In the article, COD Addresses Medical Aid in Dying, Institutional Racism, family practice delegates shared personal reasons for supporting the change. Below is an excerpt from the article:

General registrant Ravi Grivois-Shah, M.D., of Tucson, Ariz., spoke in support of one of the medical aid in dying resolutions, explaining that his mother had passed away two weeks before the conference from complications of breast cancer.

Grivois-Shah’s mother entered hospice care just before Labor Day weekend and they discussed how she wanted to die.

“I was shocked that she was open to talking about taking control of how she would end her life if it got to that point,” he said.

However, Grivois-Shah continued, medical aid in dying isn’t currently legal in Arizona.

“But I really wished she had that option, to be able to talk to her physician and have more control over the situation,” he said. “I hope that in the future, I can have that control of the situation with my father, for myself and my family. I think this is a personal decision that everyone needs to decide on their own when the time comes, what the right choice is for them.” READ MORE

For a comprehensive list of medical organizations that support or are neutral to medical aid in dying, please visit the blog of Ethicist Thaddeus Mason Pope.

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