The BMA will move to a neutral stance on physician-assisted dying.
The change in position follows a narrow vote at the BMA Annual Representative Meeting (ARM), which h saw 49% of 302 delegates in favour, 48% against and 3% abstaining.
The motion 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.’
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.
Proposing the motion, Dr Robin Arnold of the retired members’ conference, said that ‘a position of neutrality will allow the BMA to represent all its members and seek to achieve the best outcome for all’, as well as to be ‘at the table’ to argue that doctors with a moral objection can abstain.
Speaking in favour, Dr Antony Lempert of the Shropshire division said that updating the position will end the BMA’s ‘self-imposed gagging order’, allowing it to engage with the proposed Assisted Dying Bill.
But speaking against the motion in the lively 45-minute debate, Dr Gillian Wright of the Scotland division argued that moving to a position of neutrality would suggest ‘tacit approval’ for assisted dying.
Another motion adding that provision should be made for ‘conscientious objection’ in any future UK legislation on assisted dying, including the ‘right to not prescribe lethal doses of medication’, was also passed.
A section proposing that clinicians with a conscientious objection should refer the patient to another clinician was passed as a reference – meaning it will be looked at but not made official BMA policy – following concerns that this would undermine conscientious objection rights.
The BMA’s 2020 survey found that GPs were ‘generally more opposed’ to physician-assisted dying than other doctors
Meanwhile, 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.
The House of Lords is due to debate the prospective legislation on assisted dying next month.
Other motions debated today included calls for:
- The BMA to clarify what alternative routes for pay negotiations will be taken once it leaves the DDRB process
- The BMA to seek ‘full immunity for all doctors from clinical negligence claims during the Covid-19 pandemic’
- The BMA to support the demand of other health unions for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers
- The UK Government to assess and publish the number of surplus vaccines and how it will ensure these are shared internationally ‘ideally before the end of 2021’
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. PASSED
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; PASSED
ii) the right of conscientious objection should include the right to not prescribe lethal doses of medication; PASSED
iii) a clinician with a conscientious objection should still provide a factual report to any decision making body if appropriate and relevant; PASSED
iv) a clinician with a conscientious objection should still refer to another clinician to ensure appropriate access to care. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
YORKSHIRE REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting notes the lack of a published plan regarding how the BMA will influence decisions on doctors’ pay once the BMA leaves the DDRB process. We call on the BMA to:- PASSED
i) immediately advise the membership of what alternative routes for pay negotiations will be pursued when the BMA leaves the DDRB process; PASSED
ii) ensure there is a mandatory requirement for all branches of practice to publish annual reports as to the state of their workforce and requests for pay, in line with the standard expected for submission to the DDRB; and PASSED
iii) hold a referendum on the BMA’s relationship with the DDRB before the next ARM. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
CONFERENCE OF LMCS: That this meeting notes the concerns expressed by indemnity providers that the goodwill shown to clinicians in the pandemic will be lost under a deluge of litigations and demands the BMA seeks:-
i) full immunity for all doctors from clinical negligence claims during the Covid-19 pandemic; LOST
ii) a Repeal of S2(4) of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948; PASSED
iii) the establishment of an independent body to define the NHS health and social care package which can give an appropriate standard of care for all patients irrespective of the cause of the patient’s care requirements; PASSED
iv) to limit compensation claims to the costs of additional care required; LOST
v) that we move to a New Zealand no fault compensation scheme. PASSED
TOWER HAMLETS DIVISION: That this meeting supports the demand of other health unions for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers. PASSED
EMERGENCY MOTION: That this meeting notes the UK’s impressive Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the announcement on 13th September 2021 that all UK Governments will extend the programme to all 12-15-year-olds. We further note that the UK Government’s commitment, announced at G7 earlier this year, to send 100 million vaccines overseas to support efforts for global vaccine equity, with 30 million due to be sent by the end of 2021, has been widely acknowledged as insufficient by the international community. We therefore call on the UK Government to:-
i) make an immediate assessment of how many vaccines are held in surplus over and above the amount needed to complete the planned domestic rollout and to make this information publicly available; PASSED
ii) urgently publish detailed plans for ensuring that these surplus doses reach low-resource countries where priority groups, including healthcare workers, have yet to be vaccinated as soon as possible and ideally before the end of 2021; PASSED
iii) work closely with the World Health Organisation’s COVAX initiative to ensure that vaccines are distributed equitably to those most in need and avoid engaging in vaccine diplomacy; PASSED
iv) call for an emergency G7 summit to mobilise the world’s most wealthy nations to immediately share surplus vaccine doses globally. PASSED