Physician-assisted dying survey

We held a member survey which will inform the BMA's position on physician-assisted dying.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Friday 24 July 2020
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Publication of survey results

We again thank everyone who completed the physician-assisted dying survey earlier this year.

The results of this survey had been due to be debated thoroughly during this year’s five-day ARM (annual representative meeting) in June 2020. However, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, BMA council has moved this year’s ARM to a one-day virtual event on 15 September 2020.

Therefore, the intention is that the debate on physician-assisted dying is held when a physical meeting can occur and enough time can be given to debate this important issue. This is currently expected to be the next full ARM in June 2021.

In order to not detract from the crucially important topics that will be discussed at this year’s ARM, in particular COVID-19, the results of the physician-assisted dying survey will not be published until after the ARM has taken place on 15 September.

We wish to make it clear that at this stage the BMA council, chief officers, the medical ethics committee, and the agenda committee - including the chair of the representative body - remain unaware of the results of the 2020 members’ survey on physician-assisted dying.

No publication date has yet been set but that date will be published here as soon as it is agreed.

PAD survey explainer
PAD survey explainer

About the survey

For the first time, we surveyed all BMA members for their views on what our position on physician-assisted dying should be.

  • We heard from 29,007 members – 20.1% of all members invited to participate.
  • This is higher than other surveys we have carried out of our full membership and higher than the typical market research response rate for this type of survey.
  • It also means that this is one of the largest surveys of medical opinion carried out on this issue, ever.
  • We will be collating and analysing the results and preparing for a debate and discussion at next year’s ARM.

 

What is physician-assisted dying?

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

  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. For the purposes of this survey we are assuming that the criteria would fall between the following boundaries to cover patients who:

  • are adults
  • have the mental capacity to make the decision
  • have made a voluntary request
  • have either a terminal illness or serious physical illness causing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved.

 

Why we consulted on this issue

A motion was passed at the 2019 ARM which asked us to poll our members for their views on whether the BMA should shift its position from opposing a change in the law on physician-assisted dying, to adopting a neutral position.

We wanted to hear from as many of our members as possible to ensure that any decision on our policy position - and our future work in this area - can be informed by the views of our wider membership.

 

What we asked

We asked:

  • your views on what the BMA’s position should be on whether there should be a change in the law to permit physician-assisted dying
  • some additional questions about your views and the reasons for them
  • for some demographic information which will give us some additional insight into our membership’s views. 

 

How the results will be used

Your answers will be kept confidential by Kantar. 

The results of the survey will not make BMA policy. A decision on when to publish the results will be made in due course. They will inform a discussion and debate on the BMA’s policy position.  

Find out more about how BMA policy is made

The information that you provided in the survey will help us in responding to any future legislative proposals and put us in a much stronger position to engage on your behalf in the event of any future legal change.

 

What would each position mean for the BMA's work?

A decision on the BMA’s policy position will guide how we will engage with or respond to any future proposals for a change in the law.

An opposed position

A decision to remain opposed would mean that we would actively oppose attempts to change the law.

A supportive position

A decision to adopt a supportive position would mean that we would actively support attempts to change the law.

A neutral position

A decision to adopt a neutral position would mean that we would not take a view on whether or not the law should be changed.

It does not, however, mean that we would be silent on this issue. In any future legislative proposals we will continue to represent our members’ professional interests and concerns.

 

Learn more about physician-assisted dying

We have produced a range of briefing materials to inform and assist you in responding to the survey including:

  • information about the law in the UK and how it has developed
  • an overview of the law in jurisdictions internationally where physician-assisted dying is permitted
  • some of the arguments used by supporters and opponents of physician-assisted dying, and for and against the BMA adopting a neutral position
  • an overview of recent surveys of medical and public opinion on physician-assisted dying.

Audio briefing

Listen to our audio briefing with Dr John Chisholm, chair of the medical ethics committee, and Ruth Campbell, senior policy advisor, discussing the survey and what you need to know about physician-assisted dying.

 

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