BMA votes against neutral stance on assisted suicide

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Doctors have rejected calls to take a neutral stance on assisted suicide.

Medics at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday reiterated their opposition to assisted dying, with one delegate likening it to murder.

Members of the BMA voted down proposals for the organisation to take a neutral stance.

Doctors speaking at the conference cautioned that a change in position would send the wrong message.

The Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) called for the BMA to move its position from opposition to “studied” neutrality.

HPAD chairman Professor Raymond Tallis presented the motion at the conference, saying assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole and not just for the medical profession.

He also called on the union to adopt a neutral position on change in the law, saying the current system was “morally repugnant”.

“Those of you who argue that palliative care can address all the problems of all patients are simply ignoring clinical reality,” he said. “A reality in which some patients seeking an end to their terrible suffering resort to death from dehydration and starvation, botched suicides or dreadful journeys to die abroad.

“The BMA should adopt a position, not of opposition or indeed of support, but of studied neutrality towards a change of law to permit assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.”

In rebuttal, Dr Dai Samuel said: “We must question what as doctors we stand for. I simply stand for looking after my patients and providing high-quality care.

“I do not consider the killing of patients – whatever the reason is – justified. That is murder and I cannot commit that offence.”

The BMA’s outgoing chairman of council, Dr Hamish Meldrum, urged doctors not to take a neutral stance.

He said: “It would be members of the medical profession that would have to carry out the wishes of society were there to be a change in the law.

“I think adopting a neutral position is probably the worst of all options. Neutrality does tend to exclude us from the argument, an argument which would have a huge bearing on the working lives of doctors.

“I don’t come to this from any strong religious view but I do come to these views from having worked as a doctor for 40 years – mostly in general practice – where I have always felt I have been able, in almost every occasion, to support my patients when they were dying without having to actively end their lives.”

Campaign group Care Not Killing welcomed the decision.

Spokesman Dr Peter Saunders said: “Majority medical opinion remains opposed to assisted dying and this vote is a victory for common sense.

“We hope that the BMA will now continue its valuable work in campaigning for high-quality compassionate care for patients at the end of life.”