Physician-assisted dying

The BMA adopted a neutral position on PAD (physician-assisted dying) at the annual meeting in September 2021. Read more about what PAD is, the law across the world, the survey we did and the BMA's position.

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BMA position on physician-assisted dying

We represent doctors and medical students who, like the wider public, hold a wide range of views on physician-assisted dying.

On 14 September 2021 our policy-making body (the representative body) voted in favour of a motion changing the BMA’s policy from opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying, to a position of neutrality.

This means we will neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law. We will not be silent on this issue, however. We have a responsibility to represent our members’ interests and concerns in any future legislative proposals and will continue to engage with our members to determine their views.

The debate at our annual meeting was informed by the results of a survey of our members in 2020. This survey was not a policy-making exercise but was one of a number of factors that representatives took into account when making their decision. 

Representatives also reiterated their call for robust protection for conscientious objection should the law change in the future.

Read more about how BMA policy is formed.

 

What physician-assisted dying is

Physician-assisted dying refers to doctors’ involvement in measures intentionally designed to end a patient’s life, covering the situations below. 

  1. Where doctors would prescribe lethal drugs at the voluntary request of an adult patient with capacity, who meets defined eligibility criteria, to enable that patient to self-administer the drugs to end their own life. This is sometimes referred to as physician-assisted dying or physician-assisted suicide.
  2. Where doctors would administer lethal drugs at the voluntary request of an adult patient with capacity, who meets defined eligibility criteria, with the intention of ending that patient’s life. This is often referred to as voluntary euthanasia.​

Eligibility

Eligibility for physician-assisted dying would be set out in any piece of legislation brought forward in the future.

In our 2020 member survey, however, we assumed the criteria would fall within the following boundaries, to cover patients who:

  • are adults
  • have the mental capacity to make the decision
  • have made a voluntary request and
  • have either a terminal illness or serious physical illness causing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved.
Watch: BMA medical ethics committee chair, John Chisholm, summarises the key findings from the BMA member survey
Watch: BMA medical ethics committee chair, John Chisholm, summarises the key findings from the BMA member survey