Physicians poll shows conflict on assisted suicide

Print More

(Host) The Vermont Medical Society released a vote on Wednesday indicating that most of the state’s medical doctors oppose new laws for or against physician-assisted suicide. Still, advocates of assisted suicide had success with a separate resolution that calls for neutrality and allows doctors to lobby for legislation.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Medical Society decided this fall to put the question of physician assisted suicide to a vote of its 1,500 members. But when the votes were in, Society President Dr. James O’Brien acknowledged the results were confusing.

That’s because a majority of physicians ended up supporting two, somewhat contradictory positions. Seventy-four percent favored continuing the society’s current policy of opposition to any legislation on physician assisted suicide. However, a smaller majority, just over 50%, also supported a resolution pushed by advocates of physician assisted suicide. That resolution says the society should be neutral and that individual doctors could lobby the legislature on the issue.

O’Brien says the message from the vote is that most doctors don’t want the Legislature to get involved in life and death decisions between a doctor and patient.

(O’Brien) "I think it’s very clear that most doctors in Vermont feel we do not want any laws written for end of life care, in that these are very private discussions that go on between physicians, patients and family members. And that any legislation that might go forward would interfere with that relationship."

(Dillon) But a group that favors physician-assisted suicide said the votes show that doctors are split on the issue. Doctor Richard Austin is a retired surgeon from Shelburne who is a director of Vermont Death with Dignity.

(Austin) "Polls around the country and the state show the popular vote favors assisted dying, and the Medical Society has been conservative and maybe voted a little bit against it today. Although we’re encouraged and happy that our resolution at least passed."

(Dillon) Austin said the Legislature should hear all opinions.

(Austin) "The important thing from our point of view is that the Legislature must carry on with committee hearings and hear doctors from both sides with their patient experience and make their own decisions. The Medical Society should not decide for the state what our end legislation is."

(Dillon) The Medical Society’s governing council will meet next month to try to resolve its position on the issue.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.