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At the heart of general practice since 1960

BMA warning as assisted suicide bill launched

By Yvette Martyn

The BMA has warned that any move to permit physician assisted suicide could wreck the doctor-patient relationship, as politicians in Scotland begin debating whether the law should be changed.

Margo MacDonald MSP, who has Parkinson's disease, today formally proposed the End of Life Choices Bill, which would allow anyone over the age of 16 to request help to die.

But Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said that while ‘open discussion' of the issue should be welcomed, the bill was opposed by most doctors.

‘If doctors are authorised, by law, to kill or help kill they are taking on an additional role which we believe is alien to the one of care giver and healer,' he said. ‘The traditional doctor-patient relationship is founded on trust and this risks being impaired if the doctor's role encompasses any form of intentional killing.'

‘The arguments for and against a change in law on assisted suicide are complex and challenging and there are a range of views within the medical profession, as with wider society,' he added. ‘However the majority of doctors continue to oppose physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.'

The assisted suicide debate was in the headlines throughout the second half of last year with a number of high-profile attempts to change the law, but if the End of Life Choices Bill was to be passed, Scotland would become the only place in the UK where it would be legal to help someone end their life.

Last July, former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer petitioned to remove the threat of prosecution to those who travel or help others to travel to countries where assisted dying is legal – but lost the Lords vote. Two months later, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued guidance outlining 13 circumstances under which someone who assisted a death may not be prosecuted.

And in November Pulse reported an impassioned plea for a change in the law from best-selling GP author Dr Ann McPherson, who is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer.

Dr McPherson told Pulse: ‘I have had good palliative care, but however good it is, I would like the option of an assisted death.'

Dr Brian Keighley said assisted suicide is opposed by most doctors.

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