The powerful American Bar Association (ABA) will be asked to support the legalisation of euthanasia at its annual conference in San Francisco later this month.
The proposal has been put forward by the Beverley Hills Bar Association (BHBA), which wants the 370,000-strong ABA to support legislation allowing what it describes as “physician-assisted suicide” for terminally-ill patients.
Director and past president of the BHBA Bert Tigerman said what the association was promoting was not strictly euthanasia as doctors would be authorised to assist to die only those patients who had specifically requested aid.
He said he expected the ABA's 525-member ruling council, the House of Delegates, to back what will be one of the dominant issues at the conference.
However, at least two other sections of the ABA, which represent the elderly and the mentally and physically disabled, have come out fiercely against the proposal and will be asking the ABA to oppose physician-assisted suicide.
The opposing sides first clashed at the 1992 ABA conference in Dallas, where the BHBA lost the vote by a two-thirds majority.
Tigerman said it expected the vote to be closer this time, although the debate would be no less heated.
“Someone described this to me as the abortion issue of the next decade,” he said.
Despite the anticipated controversy, Tigerman said that part of US lawyers' role was to act as social leaders in their community.
“It's hard to get away from social implications no matter what part of the law you're dealing with,” he said.
Just under 12,000 ABA members are expected to attend the conference which starts on 31 July, ends on 6 August, and is spread out over 13 venues.
They will be joined by 550 lawyers from 53 countries, including contingents from the Bar Council of England and Wales, and the English and Scottish Law Societies.