Ethics

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Physician-assisted dying

 

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.

For the first time, we will be asking all members for their views on what the BMA’s position should be on a change in the law to permit physician-assisted dying. The information we get will inform a debate and vote on BMA policy at our ARM (annual representative meeting) in June 2020. 

 

 

What we are doing and why

At the 2019 ARM, the representative body voted to carry out a survey of members to get their views on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying. 

If you are a BMA member, we want to hear your views. We will be contacting all members in the new year to give you the opportunity to participate.

The results of the survey will not determine policy. They will be made available to members ahead of next year’s ARM, where they will inform a discussion, debate and a vote by representatives on the BMA’s policy position. 

Our current policy of opposition will stand unless and until a decision is made otherwise. 

 

What you can do

We will be updating this page regularly with the latest information about the survey. We want to hear from as many of our members as possible. For now, we are asking you to: 

  • make sure your contact details are up-to-date, including your e-mail address (visit 'My account')
  • make sure that you have opted in to receive electronic communications from us
  • keep an eye on your e-mails and on other BMA communications for updates
  • encourage your colleagues to do the same. 

If you need help updating your contact details or checking whether you have opted in, please contact [email protected]. For all other queries about the survey, please contact [email protected]

 

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. 

 

BMA position on assisted dying

Our policy position since 2006 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. 

 

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.

 

BMA policy on end-of-life care

Our policy position on end-of-life care is separate from our policy on physician-assisted dying. We have long-standing policy that supports high-quality end-of-life care, and for the public to be better informed about what it can achieve. 

We recognise that such care isn’t always universally available. Some groups continue to have poor access to it. We have continually called for more investment in palliative care services and support for staff. 

Regardless of the chosen position on physician-assisted dying, we will continue to advocate for further investment and improvement in end-of-life care.