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BMA opposes move to legalise assisted suicide

The BMA has said it will oppose a parliamentary bill, introduced today, to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill patients in Scotland.

Under the new bill, patients would register a potential wish to die with their GP, and would have to submit two further requests before the GP would prescribe drugs to be used in the suicide attempt – the GP would then withdraw from the process.

Trained and licensed facilitators would be instead be used to provide ‘practical assistance’ in arranging the suicide and be present when the patient administered the lethal dose.

But the BMA said that doctors would be taking on a role that was ‘alien’ to their role as a care giver and that it could not support it.

The bill was brought by MSP Margo MacDonald - an independent member for the Lothian region - in Edinburgh today and would extend to patients who had been diagnosed with chronic, degenerative diseases.

The bill is a revision of one defeated in 2010, it drops the contentious element of physician-assisted dying and stipulates the ‘cause of death must be the person’s own deliberate act’.

But Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of the Scottish BMA consultants committee, said: ‘Despite the change in approach to this, Ms MacDonald’s most recent attempt to legislate on assisted dying in Scotland, the BMA will continue to oppose the introduction of such a law.’

‘Under these new proposals, doctors will still play a role in assessing, verifying and prescribing the fatal dose, if not administering it and therefore will be taking on a role that effectively allows them to help kill a patient.’

‘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. 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.’

In England, Labour peer Lord Charles Falconer tabled a private members bill to legalise assisted dying in May. The RCGP has recently concluded its consultation on the issue and is expected to announce its stance on the bill in February.


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