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.
The UK’s largest doctors’ union has dropped its 15-year stance against assisted dying.
The British Medical Association, which represents around 150,000 members, held the vote after a poll last year showed majority support for a change in the law.
About 302 members of the BMA’s representative body took part in the historic vote and a small majority supported the change of position.
About half of them voted for a neutral stance on assisted dying, while 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 to the practice.
Euthanasia – ending someone’s life to alleviate their suffering, such as a doctor deliberately overdosing a patient – and assisted suicide – helping another person commit suicide – are both illegal in the UK.
But a bill to legalize dying aid is currently before the Scottish Parliament, after it was tabled by a Liberal Democrat MP in June.
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 who argue that the blanket ban causes needless suffering for patients and their families.
dr. John Chisholm, chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, said the association’s neutral position means that the association will not lobby for or against a change in law, but “represents the views, interests and concerns” expressed by its members. voiced.
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 was held virtually, debated the issue today and passed a motion for the association not to take a position for or against changing the law on assisted dying. .
Only 54 percent of the 560 members of BMA’s representative body who were eligible to participate in the poll voted to vote.
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 in favor of giving healthcare workers the right not to help someone die — for example, by providing a lethal dose of medication — if the law changes.
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 community, for whom any change in law would have a profound impact.
What is the Death Assistance Act?
There are two types of assisted dying identified by the NHS, but both are illegal.
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.
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.
Both forms of assisted dying are illegal under UK law.
But in June a Liberal Democrat MP, Liam McArthur, introduced a bill to legalize the practice in Scotland.
“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. ‘
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.’