Euthanasia / Assisted Suicide - Archive

British Medical Association Maintains Opposition to Euthanasia Despite Pressure

A motion to push the British Medical Association to take a “natural” stance on euthanasia and assisted suicide was voted down at the doctors’ union annual meeting in Bournemouth on Wednesday. The motion was put forward by activists as part of a larger effort to loosen the assisted suicide law in Parliament.

Attempts to legalise assisted suicide, which remains in the criminal code but virtually impossible to prosecute under current rules, should be actively and formally opposed by physicians’ associations, the membership of the union membership decided.

Last week, the British Medical Journal, the unofficial voice of the BMA, published three articles, two of which were by leaders of the pressure group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), pushing for assisted suicide. The third was an official BMJ editorial, also in favor of assisted suicide.

In the BMJ editorial, Professor Raymond Tallis, a retired professor of geriatric medicine and chairman of HPAD, wrote, “At the heart of the case for neutrality is that the decriminalisation of assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole to decide, and no particular group should have disproportionate influence on this decision.”

Originally, euthanasia lobbyists had put forward 14 separate motions asking the BMA to adopt official “neutrality” on efforts to liberalise the law. The rejected motion said, “that this meeting: i) believes that assisted dying is a matter for society and not for the medical profession; ii) believes that the BMA should adopt a neutral position on change in the law on assisted dying.”

This is the second attempt; nine motions asking for the BMA to adopt a “neutral” position were brought forward at last year’s meeting.

Opposing the motion, Dr. Dai Samuels said assisting a suicide was not an “act of kindness” but was akin to murder.

“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,” Samuels said.

Dr. Hamish Meldrum, the BMA’s outgoing chairman, called the proposal “probably the worst of all options,” saying it would do nothing but exclude doctors from the debate.

“The medical profession is not only part of society,” he said, “but 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.”

Meldrun said that he does not come from a “strong religious view” on the issue, but that in 40 years of general practice he had always “been able, in almost every occasion, to support my patients when they were dying without having to actively end their lives.”

The BMA’s refusal, again, to back away from the euthanasia question is likely to put a damper on further attempts to liberalise the law…

[FOR REMAINDER OF ARTICLE — ; [28 June 2012, Hilary White, London]