The British Medical Association (BMA) has dropped its opposition to physician-assisted dying and has taken a neutral stance on the issue.
The doctors’ union, which represents around 150,000 doctors, voted to change its official position following a debate among members at its annual meeting of representatives in London. He had opposed the legalization of medical assistance in dying since 2006.
Activists seeking to change the law welcomed this “historic step” and said it could help pave the way for future law change.
Some 49% of the BMA’s representative body voted in favor of a motion to take a neutral stance on physician-assisted dying, including physician-assisted dying, with 48% against and 3% abstaining.
The union, one of Britain’s most influential medical bodies, said even if the decision meant it would neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law, it would not remain silent on the issue .
The BMA has also insisted that doctors must have the legally protected right to conscientiously object to participation in the event of a law change in the UK.
He passed a second motion calling for ‘strong conscience rights’ to be included in any future legislation on physician-assisted dying in the UK, meaning healthcare workers should be able to oppose in awareness of participation in physician-assisted dying.
The sweeping policy change follows a BMA survey in 2020 which for the first time found that doctors in favor of a law change outnumber those against. The poll, which collected nearly 29,000 doctors and medical students, showed that 50% personally believed that doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves – 39% s ‘opposed it and 11% were undecided.
“Physician-Assisted Dying is a very emotional and sensitive subject that inspires a wide range of views and opinions both in the general public and among the medical profession, for whom any change in law would have a profound impact. Said Dr John Chisholm, Chairman of BMA’s Medical Ethics Board, after the vote.
“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 opinions on this important issue, and as such, representatives have decided that the most appropriate position for the BMA, as the professional body which represents all doctors and medical students in the UK, to take is to be neutral on the subject.
“This is an important day for the BMA and the medical profession, clearly demonstrating that we, as an organization, are listening to our wider members on such a critical issue and are developing policy based on their valuable feedback. . “
In proposing the motion at the BMA meeting, Dr Robin Arnold said moving to a neutral position would allow the union to represent all of its members. But some members warned that a neutral stance would be seen as “tacit” approval of euthanasia.
Campaign groups seeking a change in the law welcomed the move. Dignity in Dying CEO Sarah Wootton said: “This is a historic decision and a victory for common sense. range of views that health professionals have on physician-assisted dying.
Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, added, “Today’s decision represents a historic milestone in the campaign for the legalization of physician-assisted dying that will help pave the way for future change in health. the law. “
A private member’s bill to legalize physician-assisted dying in England and Wales is expected to pass second reading this fall, after being launched in the House of Lords in May. A similar bill was launched in Scotland in June.
Andrew Copson, Managing Director of Humanists UK, called the move “seismic development”.
He said: “With the possibility of legislation on the horizon, today’s decision will be seen by patients and families as validation of their wishes. We hope that it will also be seen by parliamentarians as a green light to change the law, supported by the overwhelming majority of the public.
However, Dr Gordon MacDonald, managing director of Care Not Killing, said current laws protect vulnerable people and do not need to change.
Polls show that a majority of voters support a change in the law. The Royal College of Physicians, England’s oldest medical school, dropped its opposition to physician-assisted dying and took a neutral stance on the issue in 2019.