The BMA's position on physician-assisted dying

The BMA's policy position on physician-assisted dying and how it has been reached.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 28 September 2020
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We represent doctors and medical students who, like the wider public, hold a wide range of views on physician-assisted dying. Since 2006, however, our policy position has been to oppose assisted dying in all its forms.

We support the current legal framework which allows for compassionate and ethical care for dying patients.

In full, our policy states that the BMA:

  • 'believes that the ongoing improvement in palliative care allows patients to die with dignity
  • insists that physician-assisted suicide should not be made legal in the UK
  • insists that voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the UK
  • insists that non-voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the UK
  • insists that if euthanasia were legalised, there should be a clear demarcation between those doctors who would be involved in it and those who would not.'

This policy was reaffirmed at the 2016 ARM.

 

How BMA policy is made

BMA policy is made democratically at our ARM, where members debate and vote on motions. Motions are submitted ahead of time, including through grassroots divisions, regional councils, and negotiating and professional committees.

There are 560 seats at the ARM to which members are elected. Half of these are allocated to local BMA divisions and the other half to branches of practice. This ensures that the make-up of those who attend (the representative body) is characteristic of the medical professional across the UK. This process ensures that we capture a representative picture of members’ views.

This year we surveyed our members for their views on what our position on physician-assisted dying should be. The results from this survey will be fed into a discussion and debate at the 2021 ARM.

 

BMA history on assisted dying

  • We have policy dating back to the 1950s that opposes euthanasia.
  • Later policy continued to do so, but moved away from solely focusing on euthanasia (where a third party carries out the final act), to include situations where the patient carries out the final act themselves.
  • In 2005, we became briefly neutral on the issue.
  • In 2006, we adopted our current policy of opposition.
  • In 2016, the representative body rejected a motion to adopt a neutral position following a large-scale project engaging with over 500 BMA members and members of the public.