In September, The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) surveyed its 22,500 members regarding physician assisted suicide (PAS). They say that because of that survey, the MMS decided to “rescinded its longstanding opposition to physician assisted suicide,” and to adopt a position of “neutral engagement.” But is that consistent with the survey results?
The survey itself had no real member support, since they received only 2649 responses—that’s just 13% of the membership.
The key question asked: Which one of the following policy positions do you want to see MMS take moving forward?
- 700 wanted to oppose PAS
- 443 wanted a neutral position
- 970 wanted to support PAS
- 152 were not sure
- 82 said none/other
- Another 302 did not answer the question
Why did the MMS adopt the least popular position—neutrality? With so many who did not answer and who were not sure, never mind so few that even filled out the survey, no clear position emerges. In other words, the switch had nothing to do with the survey.
925 responses (35%) came from members over 65, far exceeding other age groups. The next closest was 610 responses (23%) from those 56 to 65. Isn’t the fact that mostly older physicians responded a good thing? Well, no. It shows they are out for themselves instead of their patients.
We know from the Oregon PAS data that:
- Very few patients request it—0.372% of total deaths, though the rate is increasing.
- Those who request it are White (96%) and educated (50% had a baccalaureate or higher; another 29% had some college).
- The top two reasons, far outpacing the others, are loss of autonomy (90%) and less ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable (90%).
That certainly fits the profile of a physician. But if they think it’s fine for themselves, what about their patients, many of whom are not White or college-educated? That’s where the rest of the survey comes in.
Remember, only 13% of members responded. Of those, half of them did not even treat patients with terminal diseases, and another 28% did so “sometimes” (a highly subjective term.) Shockingly, 81% were not familiar with the proposed legislation but 62% support it anyway.
Yet most respondents expressed concerns about:
- Pressure from family to choose death for patients who are a burden—69%
- Financial pressures to push patients towards death—56%
- Creating a slippery slope for opting for death instead of treating suffering—52%
- Uncertainty over whether a patient’s condition is terminal—58%
- Provisions of PAS for patients with mental illness—74%
- Inadequate oversight of access to lethal drugs—55%
- The qualifications of the mental health clinician who is to determine capability/capacity to choose PAS—61%
Every physician matters, each patient counts? If that motto of the MMS means anything, it must oppose PAS based on these survey results.