Report from: APA Working Group on Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Decisions

Formation of APA Working Group on Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Decisions

In June of 1997, the Supreme Court held that assisted suicide is not a constitutionally protected right and that its legality is left up to the states (Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg). In anticipation of the rulings, in April of 1997, the American Psychological Association (APA) Public Communications Office, in collaboration with the Public Interest Directorate, established a working group to create a briefing paper on mental health issues involved in physician-assisted suicide and other end-of-life decisions. This paper was intended to inform news media coverage about assisted suicide anticipated in conjunction with the Court's decision. The briefing paper was subsequently converted into a public information brochure entitled Terminal Illness and Hastened Death Requests: The Important Role of the Mental Health Professional and then later published as a journal article in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Farberman, 1997).

In August of 1997, the APA Board of Directors distributed the information brochure to governance boards and committees of APA and asked them to make recommendations about whether APA should take further action in the area of assisted suicide and end-of-life decisions. In February of 1998, after reviewing recommendations from governance boards and committees, the APA Board of Directors authorized the formation of the Working Group on Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Decisions (Working Group). The Working Group was charged with the following tasks:

  1. Examine the role of psychology in end-of-life decisions and quality of care issues;

  2. Address the invisibility of psychology around the issue of end-of-life decisions and recommend methods to increase the visibility of psychology and the role of psychologists in this arena;

  3. Consider and make recommendations on whether it might be appropriate for APA to take a position on the issue of assisted suicide and end-of-life decisions.

In April of 1998, a selection subcommittee composed of three members of the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), invited the following individuals to serve as members of the Working Group: Silvia Sara Canetto, Ph.D.; David Clark, Ph.D.; Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, Ph.D.; Judith R. Gordon, Ph.D. (Chair); Therese Rando, Ph.D.; Judith Stillion, Ph.D.; and James L. Werth, Jr., Ph.D. Dr. Clark attended the first meeting of the Working Group and then was no longer able to participate.