Britain’s largest doctors’ union, the BMA, drops its 15-year opposition to assisted dying

dr. John Chisholm, chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, said the neutral position means the association will not lobby for or against a change in law, but will represent the views, interests and concerns of its members.

Britain’s largest doctors’ union today dropped its 15-year opposition to assisted dying.

The British Medical Association, which represents about 150,000 members, held a landmark vote after a survey last year found the majority supported an amendment to the law.

More than 300 members of the BMA’s representative body took part in the poll.

A slim majority supported the change to take a neutral stance on the issue.

Just under half of the BMA members who voted were in favor of a neutral stance on assisted dying. Another 48 percent were against and 3 percent abstained.

But as aiding the dying becomes legal, they said they would support physicians’ right to refuse to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients if they object.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal. Anyone caught aiding or encouraging someone to commit suicide faces up to 14 years in prison.

But euthanasia, the act of a doctor deliberately giving a terminally ill patient a drug they don’t need for the sole purpose of ending their life, is considered manslaughter or murder. Perpetrators threaten to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Assisted dying is causing a strong debate on both sides, with some arguing that no one should be deliberately deprived of the right to life.

But others say the blanket ban causes needless suffering for terminally ill patients and their families.

dr. John Chisholm, chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, said the union’s neutral position means the union will not lobby for or against a change in law, but “represent the views, interests and concerns” expressed by its members. voiced.

The move comes after more than 100 medics wrote a letter calling on the BMA to end its opposition to assisted dying.

About 302 members of the BMA's representative body, out of 560 eligible members, took part in the landmark vote.  About 49 percent supported a change of position, 48 percent opposed and three percent abstained

About 302 members of the BMA’s representative body, out of 560 eligible members, took part in the landmark vote. About 49 percent supported a change of position, 48 percent opposed and three percent abstained

Doctors and representatives of medical students at the BMA’s annual representation meeting, which took place virtually, debated the issue today.

Only 54 percent of the 560 union representatives who were eligible to participate voted.

While the body passed the motion to support people who choose to end their lives, they also said they would protect the right of health professionals to refuse to participate in the act.

The vast majority (79 percent) voted to give healthcare workers the right not to assist in death if the law changes.

What is the Death Assistance Act?

There are two types of help with dying. Both are currently illegal in England.

Euthanasia is intentionally ending a person’s life to alleviate suffering, such as a doctor deliberately giving a patient with a terminal illness a drug with the aim of ending his life.

Perpetrators threaten to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Assisted suicide is when someone helps another person to commit suicide, for example, by giving a family member a fatal amount of medication when they know they intend to use it to commit suicide.

Anyone caught aiding or encouraging someone to commit suicide faces up to 14 years in prison.

Assisted dying is also illegal in Wales under the Suicide Act 1961, and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act 1966, which says anyone who ‘encourages or aids suicide’ can face up to 14 years in prison.

Assisted suicide is not a specific criminal offense in Scotland, but it is possible that assisting a person could lead to culpable homicide.

A bill to legalize dying aid in Scotland was tabled in June by Liberal Democrat MP Liam McArthur.

But 72 percent said medics who object to assisted dying are still required to provide factual information to every decision-making body about the practice.

And doctors who would refuse to provide assisted dying services when it becomes legal should refer patients seeking that form of care to another medic, the majority said.

The series of votes follows a poll by the BMA last year on whether there should be a change in the law to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to eligible patients.

About 40 percent said they think the association should actively support efforts to change the law, a third said they should oppose assisted dying and 20 percent said the BMA should take a neutral stance.

And in that poll, half of the members surveyed said they personally believe the law should change to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, while four in 10 were against it and 11 percent were undecided.

dr. John Chisholm, Chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, said: “Death assistance is a highly emotional and sensitive topic that inspires a wide spectrum of views and opinions, both among the general public and the medical profession, for who a change in law would have a profound impact.

“As evidenced by the results of our recent survey of the profession and in today’s in-depth debate, physicians hold a wide range of personal views on this important issue, and as such representatives have decided that the most appropriate position for the BMA, as the professional body representing all doctors and medical students in the UK must be neutral on the subject.

“This is an important day for the BMA and the medical profession, demonstrating that we as an organization are listening to our wider members on such a critical topic and developing policies based on their valuable feedback.

“The move to a neutral position means that the BMA will not lobby for or against a change in law, but far from silent on the matter, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns of our members.”

On the need for health professionals to have the right to conscientiously object to participation, Dr. Chisholm added: ‘Indeed, as with many other issues that fuel such deeply ingrained personal beliefs in healthcare professionals, it is vital that these are respected and protected if there is any change in the law.

“The need for physicians’ right to conscientiously object to participation in physician-assisted dying was something that became overwhelmingly clear not only in today’s discussions, but also in the results of our survey, which showed that 93% of the respondents supported this.

“As medical professionals, we believe our primary responsibility is to preserve life.

“But that doesn’t mean we should extend it at any cost.”

They added that ‘strong palliative medicine and the choice of death assistance are not mutually exclusive’.

More than 100 leading doctors in the UK yesterday urged the association to stop opposing assisted dying and take a neutral stance.

In a letter published in the GuardianIn an era where modern medicine can extend the length of a person’s life, but not necessarily the quality of it, we believe that people with terminal or incurable conditions deserve a choice about how, where and when they die. ‘

dr. Gillian Wright said: ‘This motion is actually about euthanasia, the BMA defines dying with the help of a doctor as assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“We know that neutrality means tacit approval and has enormous political significance.”

The move was welcomed by some campaign groups, with Dignity in Dying chief executive Sarah Wootton calling it “a win for sanity.”

She said: ‘This is a historic decision and a victory for common sense.

“It aligns the BMA with a growing number of medical bodies in the UK and around the world that truly represent the range of views that healthcare professionals have on assisted dying.

“By adopting a stance of committed neutrality, the BMA can now proudly and accurately advocate on behalf of its members, while sending a message to Parliament that assisted dying is rightly an issue for society, where the views of dying people and their loved ones must be heard loud and clear.’

But the CEO of Care Not Killing, Dr Gordon Macdonald, said current laws protect vulnerable people and don’t need to be changed.

He added: “We are of course disappointed at the divisive nature of this vote, as it exposes the gap between physicians caring for patients at the end of life, in hospitals or hospices, who resist assisted suicide and euthanasia and those physicians working in unrelated disciplines such as child and adolescent psychiatry and occupational health care.

As the BMA’s own research shows, coal physicians who provide care to the elderly and terminally ill, who work in palliative care, geriatric medicine and general practices continue to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia because they know that it is is not necessary and the subtle pressure it can put on patients to end their lives prematurely.’

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