Mass. physicians open debate on end-of-life options

The vote before the Massachusetts Medical Society was whether to approve a survey — just a survey — of members’ attitudes toward “medical aid in dying.”

But the discussion last month launched dozens of doctors into a broader emotional debate over end-of-life decisions for their patients. One doctor invoked the “death with dignity” message of South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, while another cited the “do no harm” mantra of the Greek physician Hippocrates.

In the end, the policy-making body decisively endorsed the survey and approved $25,000 to fund it — a sign that the Massachusetts Medical Society may be reconsidering its historic rejection of what it has called “physician-assisted suicide.’’ It comes as this movement to give terminally ill patients an option to end their life at a time of their choosing is gaining traction, propelled in part by some physicians’ groups dropping their longstanding opposition.

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