American Medical Association Delegates Vote on Assisted Suicide

San Diego -- 1999 -- American Medical Association delegates chose Wednesday to support pro-life legislation in Congress that would essentially ban assisted suicide.

On the last day of a four-day AMA convention, the delegates voted to continue supporting a bill that regulates the use of pain medication, despite objections from doctors who said the measure would be an intrusion into state-regulated medicine.

Delegates said it was more important to stop the assisted suicide law adopted by Oregon voters in 1994 and to prevent other states from following that state's lead.

"It's a question of whether the ends justify the means," said Dr. Donald Schroeder, an AMA delegate from Eugene, Ore., "I strongly oppose federal intervention, but I'm so opposed to physician-assisted suicide that I support this action."

The House passed the Pain Relief Promotion Act in October in part because it had the backing of the AMA, which represents 300,000 doctors. Opponents of the bill had hoped the AMA would reverse its influential support before a Senate vote.

Among other things, the bill requires the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the license to prescribe controlled substances, such as barbiturates or morphine, and to pursue criminal charges against doctors who assist the suicide of a terminally ill patient, regardless of state law.

A majority of the nearly 500 AMA delegates voted to support the bill while also working to somehow address concerns about excessive regulation. But the delegates also agreed to still support the bill as it is written.

The bill's supporters in the AMA say the concerns about government interference have been overblown by activists for assisted suicide.

"They've been borrowed by the euthanasia movement," said AMA delegate Dr. Rex Greene, a cancer specialist from Los Angeles. "This is a substantial protection for physicians," Greene said after today's voice vote and show of hands. "This is a good law."

The bill is not retroactive, so doctors who have assisted suicides in Oregon would not be prosecuted, the AMA says. Last year, 15 assisted suicides were reported to the Oregon health department.

Thomas R. Reardon, MD, AMA President, said, "The American Medical Association voted today to continue to support the Pain Relief Promotion Act which would prevent the use of controlled substances in physician-assisted suicide while allowing physicians to aggressively treat pain. The AMA also voted to work with state and national specialty societies to improve parts of the bill (H.R. 2260), which was passed by the House of Representatives in October of this year."

Reardon concluded, "The AMA opposes physician-assisted suicide as it is antithetical to the role of the physician as healer. We are committed to providing the best possible end-of-life care. The Pain Relief Promotion Act supports both these goals."

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