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In a new position statement, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) leaves the decision of whether to practice lawful physician-hastened death to “the conscientious judgment of its members acting on behalf of their adult patients dying of neurologic illness.”1 This replaces a 1998 position statement that vigorously opposed participation in either physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.
“The recognition that AAN members who reside in states where physician-assisted suicide was lawful might be conflicted by their willingness to aid their terminally ill patients seeking lawful hastened death assistance, and the historical AAN position precluding their participation,” were the motivation behind the new policy, according to James A. Russell, DO, FAAN, chairman of the AAN’s Ethics, Law, and Humanities Committee.
In a 2014 survey, a significant percentage of AAN members stated that they might feel bound by conscience to comply with the wishes of dying patients for assistance in hastening death. The Ethics, Law, and Humanities Committee deliberated the issues for two years before unanimously recommending that the 1998 position be retired and issuing the new position.
“The purpose was to remove any potential conflict in guidance by allowing AAN members to lawfully exercise their conscience on behalf of their dying patients without fear of an AAN grievance action,” says Russell.
1. Russell JA, Epstein LG, Bonnie RJ, et al. Lawful physician-hastened death: AAN position statement. Neurology 2018; 90(9):420-422.
• James A. Russell, DO, FAAN, Department of Neurology, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, Burlington, MA. Phone: (781) 744-5124. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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