AMA Resists Embracing “Neutrality” on Physician-Assisted Suicide

June 11, 2019 • Posted in Blog


D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director

Yesterday, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates voted to retain the current position of the AMA RE physician-assisted suicide. That was the recommendation of the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA), and the CEJA report was accepted by a 65:35 majority, according to the National Right to Life News.

CEJA is responsible for maintaining and updating the AMA’s Medical Code of Ethics, and promoting “adherence to the Code’s professional ethical standards.” Last year, CEJA recommended maintaining the long-held AMA stance against physician-assisted suicide, but the House of Delegates rejected that recommendation. Further study resulted in another round of consideration at this year’s meeting. As of 0923 on 11 June, there is no mention of the vote on the Highlights from the 2019 AMA Annual Meeting site.

The annual AMA meeting began 6 June, and is slated to end on 12 June, with “600 physicians, residents and medical students” in attendance. One of the “big issues” to be covered during the meeting is listed on the AMA website as “Collecting data to study suicide among physicians and physicians-in-training.” There is no mention of physicians helping others commit suicide on that site. But there is listed a specific “education session” (which includes continuing medical education credit) on Friday, 7 June: 8:30–9:15 a.m. “A question of ethics: Perspectives on end of life care and the role of medical aid in dying.”

In the world of bioethics, there are numerous bright red lines that exist. And every such boundary has both proponents who would seek to maintain such a limit (this far and no farther), and proponents who would lead, pull, push, or drag others in their wake across the line. At the 2019 AMA annual meeting in Chicago, there are undoubtedly both camps of proponents regarding physician-assisted suicide, and testimony by delegates representing both sides of the issue was heard. Those promoting physician and other health care professionals’ involvement in ending others’ lives often change the name of the process. “Medical aid in dying,” or MAID, is the newest verbiage.

“MAID” was not adopted. Instead, the physician’s role as healer remained the AMA position. Two prominent conclusions of the CEJA report stand in bas relief:

  1. The AMA Code of Ethics should not be amended, effectively sustaining the AMA’s position that physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.
  2. With respect to prescribing lethal medication, the term “physician assisted suicide” describes the practice with the greatest precision.

May all the members of the AMA safeguard this position, continually holding this bright red line as an appropriate and good boundary. After all, “neutrality” toward precipitating the death of a patient is an oxymoron.


Generous Gift from Local Multimedia Artist,
Carol Harkness

unnamed (1)Flourishing is an original mixed media mosaic on birchwood (11.5″ X 11.5″), in a hand-rubbed walnut frame. It is the artist’s desire that Flourishing benefit The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture in a tangible way.

Therefore, we are offering this beautiful work of art (photographed below; valued at $450) as a prize for the largest donation that is received by our organization during the month of June 2019. Donate now for your chance to win this beautiful piece.

The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture is thrilled to partner with Artist Carol Harkness in this way, and greatly appreciate her generosity. Thank you, Carol!

unnamed (3)


E-mails to Tennessee AMA delegates

On behalf of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture, Tennessee delegates to the AMA meeting in Chicago were contacted via e-mail. A sample of one such e-mail follows:

Dear Dr. _______,

I am writing to you as an HOD delegate of the AMA. As a physician and state representative of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, I am concerned regarding the AMA’s potential shift of position from being opposed to physician-assisted suicide to a so-called “neutral” stance toward “aid in dying.” This represents far more than a shift in language. This is a monumental step in the wrong direction, transforming persons trained to be healers into purveyors of death. It would harm both patients and physicians, not least by eroding trust.

A thought-experiment may help clarify my concern. Imagine that chefs in a particular municipality were given license to provide poison to patrons upon request. You and your family are out for a meal in a local restaurant. At the next table is an older couple having a meal. The salad is served to them, and a few moments later, the man slumps over his plate. No one near him reacts. Shortly thereafter, your first course arrives. How secure are you about your own future as you lift your fork?

Currently, we as a nation authorize our armed forces, the police, and certain persons within the penal system to kill other citizens under specified conditions. Physicians should not be added to that list. I am concerned that the “New Mexico resolution” to be voted on this coming weekend in Chicago would be a major step in that direction. Therefore, if you are attending as a delegate, I urge you to vote against the New Mexico resolution.

Thank you for your time and consideration of these thoughts. Feel free to contact me with your response or questions.


D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director
The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture