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BMA will ask members for views on assisted dying

The BMA will carry out a poll of its members asking for their views on assisted dying, following a debate at its annual meeting.

Delegates passed a motion at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Belfast today, voting in favour for the BMA to survey its members on assisted dying.

This comes after the RCGP’s governing council decided to turn to its 53,000 members for their views.

The motion was proposed in light of the recent decision by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying after a member survey.

Currently, assisted dying is illegal in the UK, and doctors can be jailed for up to 14 years if found guilty of helping someone to die.

All three parts of the motion were carried forward by delegates, with parts i and ii carried with a majority. Just over half of delegates voted in favour of part iii, calling for a BMA poll.

Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying Dr Jacky Davis, who introduced the motion, said: ’This vote is an important step for the BMA and means that members will be able to express their views on this historic issue. Earlier this year, the Royal College of Physicians moved to a position of neutrality on assisted dying following a survey of members and just a few days ago the RCGP announced it would survey its own members.

‘It is becoming clear that there is a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policy of medical organisations needs to reflect that. Politicians and patients want to know what doctors think on this issue and we need all views to be heard. Our patients have wanted this choice for decades and we should be pleased that doctors are prepared to engage in the debate.’

Chief executive of Dignity in Dying Sarah Wootton said the move showed maturity and pragmatism and would allow the BMA to ‘accurately reflect the views of its 160,000 members across the UK’.

She continued: ‘For many years, the BMA’s opposition has been interpreted as most doctors being opposed to assisted dying, despite this claim never being tested against the views of its membership.

‘An assisted dying law would help address these issues, giving choice and compassion to dying people who are suffering unbearably at the end of life while providing robust protection to the rest of society, including doctors. Eighty-four per cent of the British public understand this and support a change in the law, and doctors are catching up.’

The BMA has previously opposed assisted dying, and has never asked its members for their views on the topic.

Motion passed in full:

57 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (TO BE PROPOSED BY ISLINGTON DIVISION): That this meeting notes the recent decision by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying after surveying the views of its members, and :-

i) supports patient autonomy and good quality end of life care for all patients;

ii) recognises that not all patient suffering can be alleviated;

iii) calls on the BMA to carry out a poll of its members to ascertain their views on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying.