Human Exceptionalism

Abdication of Professional Responsibility to Lead

I wrote a post a few days ago criticizing the decision by the board of directors of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine to assume a position of “studied neutrality” on the crucial moral issue of physician-assisted suicide. It is simply a disgrace that the professional academy of hospice and palliative doctors is now on record as taking no position on what may be the most important issue facing the care of their dying patients. More, it is a cowardly abdication of the professional responsibility to lead.

I write more in this article in the Weekly Standard. Here is my conclusion: The AAHPM properly urges that “medical practitioners carefully scrutinize the sources of fear and suffering leading to the request” for assisted suicide “with the goal of addressing these sources without hastening death,” along with practice guidelines for accomplishing these important goals. But this promotion of good medical practice rings hollow given the association’s explicit neutrality on assisted suicide, which in effect grants member doctors permission to help kill their patients without threatening their good standing with the association.

Such terminal nonjudgmentalism is a profound abandonment of the organization’s professed goal of promoting proper hospice care–a philosophy that unequivocally opposes assisted suicide. Perhaps more egregiously, it abandons patients–whose lives depend on ethical doctors acting energetically to relieve suffering while abiding by the Hippocratic Oath’s sacred duty to “neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor . . . make a suggestion to this effect.”

Let us hope that the membership of the AAHPM follows the lead of the members of the British Medical Association, who, when their leaders also assumed a neutral stance on assisted suicide, reversed the decision the first chance they had. Hospice doctors: It is up to you.

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