January 31, 2018

Mass. doctors speak out against assisted suicide

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A group of doctors who oppose physician-assisted suicide were expected to lobby lawmakers, who are considering bills to legalize it, after a press conference Wednesday.

A group of Massachusetts physicians who oppose assisted suicide in Massachusetts spoke out against the practice during a State House press conference at noon on Wednesday.

Three physicians released prepared remarks ahead of the news conference, detailing their opposition to the pending legislation, and to the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) House of Delegates' recent decision to adopt a position of "neutral engagement" on the matter, after the professional society officially opposed physician-assisted suicide since 1996.

Dr. Mark Rollo, a Fitchburg-based family practice physician and MMS member, said the decision to withdraw opposition was a mistake, as he believes that hospice and palliative care are the proper avenues to treating the terminally ill.

Rollo said physician-assisted suicide is in violation of the Hippocratic Oath, and that dying patients may be pressured into seeking it if widespread legalization occurs, because insurance companies will view it as a cheaper alternative to providing care.

About 25 doctors are part of the group opposing the practice. The other doctors who released prepared remarks were Dr. Thomas Sullivan, a board-certified cardiologist and past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Dr. Laura Petrillo, a palliative care physician who recently moved to Massachusetts from California, where assisted suicide is now legal.

The neutral engagement position does not mean that the MMS favors physician-assisted suicide, but that it will engage with lawmakers as legislation on the matter is mulled. Dr. Henry Dorkin, president of the MMS, said membership was deeply divided on the issue, and sought to clarify the new position in a Jan. 25 blog post.

"In assuming the term 'neutral engagement,' the House of Delegates stipulated that the MMS serve as a medical and scientific resource to inform legislative efforts that will support patient and physician shared decision making regarding medical aid-in-dying, provided that physicians shall not be required to provide medical aid-in-dying that involves prescribing lethal doses of medication if it violates personally held ethical principles," Dorkin wrote.

Doctors opposing assisted suicide were expected to lobby lawmakers following Wednesday's press conference. The Joint Committee on Public Health is now reviewing bills that would legalize assisted suicide, and a decision could come as early as February, according to a spokesman for the opposing doctors.

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