This site is intended for health professionals only


BMA to debate move to ‘neutral’ stance on assisted dying


Assisted dying


The BMA will debate moving to a ‘neutral’ stance on physician-assisted dying at its upcoming annual representatives’ meeting.

It follows a major BMA survey last year that found more doctors are in favour of seeing the BMA change its stance to support assisted dying than those who are against it.

Currently, the BMA’s position is to oppose all forms of physician-assisted suicide but a vote at 2019’s ARM instructed the BMA to launch the poll to find out whether members wished it to adopt a ‘neutral position’ on a change to the law.

Now doctors attending this year’s ARM on 13 and 14 September will debate the BMA’s policy on the controversial issue in a ‘special session’ that will explore members’ ‘interests and concerns in the event of future legislative proposals’, according to the event agenda.

A motion, proposed by the South West regional council, said: ‘This meeting believes, in order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the BMA should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician-assisted dying.’

Another motion, put forward by the BMA’s agenda committee, added that provision should be made for ‘conscientious objection’ – including the ‘right to not prescribe lethal doses of medication’. 

It said that ‘robust conscience rights’ for all health, care and administrative staff must be included in any future UK legislation on assisted dying.

However, the motion also proposed that any clinician with a conscientious objection should ‘still provide a factual report to any decision making body if appropriate and relevant’ and ‘refer to another clinician to ensure appropriate access to care’.

The BMA’s 2020 survey found that GPs were ‘generally more opposed’ to physician-assisted dying than other doctors

And the RCGP is facing a potential legal challenge by two senior GP members who want it to end its opposition to assisted dying after a major member survey found a significant reduction in support for the stance.

Meanwhile, the ARM will also debate:

Motions in full

SOUTH WEST REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting believes, in order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the British Medical Association should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician-assisted dying

THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (TO BE PROPOSED BY LINCOLN DIVISION): That this meeting calls for robust conscience rights to be included in any future legislation on assisted dying in the United Kingdom, believing that:- 

i) the right of conscientious objection should apply to all health, care and administrative staff; 

ii) the right of conscientious objection should include the right to not prescribe lethal doses of medication; 

iii) a clinician with a conscientious objection should still provide a factual report to any decision making body if appropriate and relevant; 

iv) a clinician with a conscientious objection should still refer to another clinician to ensure appropriate access to care.

LONDON REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting understands the value of health data in research and planning but has no confidence in the ability of NHS Digital to keep the data extracted under the new General Practice Data for Planning and Research system safe. This meeting instructs the BMA to demand that the system should be opt-in not opt-out.

LONDON REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting is deeply concerned by proposals to establish a Medical Apprenticeship Scheme that will lead to a two-tier system for medical professionals. This meeting calls on the BMA to:- 

i) reject these plans outright, particularly the ability of local employers to determine entry standards of medical students, apprentice or otherwise; 

ii) lobby for increased accessibility for financial support by way of bursaries, grants and subsidised tuition fees instead of apprenticeships; 

iii) propose the inclusion of extracurricular roles such as healthcare assistant (HCA) which are remunerated to financially support undergraduates; 

iv) recognise the impact on training of current medical students, doctors in training and educational supervisors.

NORTH EAST REGIONAL COUNCIL: The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that the UK was woefully underprepared to tackle a pandemic. Thousands of people have needlessly died or been harmed due to the virus. That this meeting calls for a wideranging public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic:- 

i) to be initiated without delay; 

ii) that includes, but is not limited to, full evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of national public health system, the fitness of purpose of its health protection systems, the impact of the progressive loss of medical expertise, Government decisionmaking and advisory structures, procurement, vaccine development, vaccine delivery, lockdown measures and timing, PPE, public health delivery structures, investment in track and trace, protective measures for vulnerable people and communities, and management of outgoing and incoming travellers; 

iii) that has the ability to make recommendations for the planning, preparation and investment towards managing the next pandemic and so that lessons can be learned and rectified under UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and Office of Health Protection (OHP); 

v) that recognises the essential role of health and social care workers, particularly those receiving poor pay and working in difficult conditions; 

v) that considers whether actions of ministers and advisors meets the threshold for criminal negligence investigations and prosecution.

Source: BMA