June 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Ama Proposals A Bid To Head Off Assisted Suicide ‘Bill Of Rights’ Would Shield Dying Patients From Intervention

Brian Bergstein Associated Press

Dying patients should be assured their doctors will follow their last wishes, the American Medical Association said Sunday while introducing two initiatives meant to head off calls for physician-assisted suicide.

At its annual meeting, the AMA presented a bill of rights for dying patients and introduced a way for people with Medic Alert bracelets to leave instructions for their final care.

“We do not have a right to die, but we do have a right to be free of unwanted intervention,” Dr. Linda Emanuel, the AMA’s vice president for ethics standards, said at the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago.

While the association opposes physician-assisted suicide, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering its legality.

Patients who belong to Medic Alert, the nonprofit organization that keeps medical information and is available for emergencies, could choose options for their final care ranging from “prolong life; treat everything” to “provide comfort care only.”

The final instructions for the Medic Alert patients, who wear bracelets or amulets with their names and toll-free numbers, could include information on decisions for a terminally ill patient and whether organs would be donated after death.

The bill of rights will be incorporated into a death-education program the AMA is operating over the next two years.

“The AMA firmly believes that if end-of-life care was of the highest possible quality, the call for physician-assisted suicide would be drastically reduced, if not eliminated,” said Dr. Thomas Reardon, vice chair of the AMA board of trustees.

The issue has become more heated in recent years, largely because of retired Michigan pathologist Jack Kevorkian, who has helped more than 40 people kill themselves. He has been acquitted in three trials.

In April, President Clinton signed a bill banning the use of federal money to pay for assisted suicides.

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