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13 Nov 2017

As the Victorian Parliament debated its Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, the rest of Australia watched with interest. And the discussion continues throughout the national community.

Other Australian State parliaments are, or have been, in varying stages of debate on the same topic.

The AMA recognises the diverse views held on this important and emotional issue.

The AMA’s policy, revised and updated in 2016, contains several key points and is a positive advocacy piece for better end-of-life care.

The Position Statement calls for better community education on advanced care planning and the “doctrine of double effect” — that is, the notion that a death hastened by a treatment to ease suffering does not constitute euthanasia.

And it calls for much greater investment in palliative care.

The AMA’s Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide (EPAS)acknowledges the diversity of opinion in the community. And it acknowledges the diversity of opinion within the medical profession.

But at its heart is a clear statement that “doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life”.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon has recently expressed the importance of conversations about EPAS not failing to take into account the impact new laws would have on the rest of the health system and society as a whole.

“I do not doubt the compassion or motives of most people promoting the Bill in Victoria. I have heard numerous moving stories of the helplessness people feel when they watch a loved one die,” he said.

“Compassion is what drives doctors. It is at the heart of our Code of Ethics. I do not lack compassion for those who have watched a loved one die.

“We have all experienced loss. Many of us have suffered the tragedy of watching a parent, child or spouse die. This grief never leaves people. It informs their opinions.

“However, highly emotional stories of the grief felt subsequent to watching a loved one die do not constitute an intellectual argument in favour of EPAS.

“I do not seek to diminish or demean the opinions of those doctors who hold a different view to AMA policy. This debate is vexed. It is difficult.

“But the AMA’s Position Statement — which I was elected to prosecute, protect and promote — is the result of thousands of hours of work supported by generations of wisdom and ethics.

“It is appropriate that parliaments, not doctors, make laws on behalf of their citizens.”

Dr Gannon recently attended the World Medical Association (WMA) meeting in Chicago, where only the fourth editorial revision of the 1947 Declaration of Geneva was endorsed. At the heart of this document about medical ethics is the sanctity of human life.

“It is not surprising that 107 of 109 national medical associations affiliated with the WMA have statements opposing EPAS,” Dr Gannon said.

“This includes the US and Germany – nations with one form or another of EPAS law.

“Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are at odds with modern and ancient codes of medical ethics. Every life is precious.”

But the AMA has moved to clarify differences between the WMA’s recent Declaration on Euthanasia and the Federal AMA’s Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide.

He said the AMA's Position Statement was largely in line with the WMA’s position, but there was a clear difference. The WMA has labelled doctors who participate in euthanasia as unethical. The AMA disagrees.

The AMA’s Position Statement recognises that there are divergent views within the medical profession and the broader community in relation to Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide”.

Further, “the AMA acknowledges that laws in relation to Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide are ultimately a matter for society and government”.

“We have not and will not describe doctors who support or participate in euthanasia or physician assisted suicide as unethical,” Dr Gannon said.

“Learning from the Dutch and Canadian experience, the AMA believes that doctors who participate in Euthanasia or Physician Assisted Suicide are more likely to require the industrial, professional, medico-legal, and pastoral support of organisations like the AMA.”


The AMA’s Position Statement can be viewed here:



Published: 13 Nov 2017