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BMA opens end-of-life care debate

Doctors and patients will be asked to take part in a major BMA research project examining end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying.

palliative careIt will explore the practical and ethical issues surrounding end-of-life care and collect the most comprehensive body of qualitative UK research in this area. The project begins next year.

Events will be held across the UK to engage doctors and the public in debate about end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. 

Research topics include:

  • The quality, availability, and accessibility of end-of-life care in the UK
  • The impact of physician-assisted dying on the doctor-patient relationship and how dying patients are cared for
  • The assessment of mental capacity and the accuracy of prognosis in terminal stages.

Doctors will be informed about how they can get involved with the project.

Strong views

The BMA is a strong advocate of all patients having access to the highest-quality end-of-life care and continues to oppose physician-assisted dying.

The BMA council today approved the project, which will run until 2016.

BMA council chair Mark PorterBMA council chair Mark Porter (pictured right) said, while the BMA had long-established policy in opposition to physician-assisted dying, the association recognised there were strongly held views in the medical profession on the many facets of the issue. 

He said: ‘By engaging directly with doctors and patients we aim to compile the most comprehensive body of qualitative research into end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying that will not only inform the BMA’s future discussions but will play a significant part in the ongoing public debate.’

Until recently, patients reaching the end of their life were placed on the LCP (Liverpool Care Pathway). However, the LCP was withdrawn earlier this year, following concerns about its implementation, and replaced with the five priorities for the care of dying people.

Emotive issues

Dr Porter said: ‘We believe now is the time to start a full and informed debate that addresses the wider medical, legal and emotive issues around end-of-life care.

‘This means examining how palliative care is provided nationally, ensuring that patients are not faced with a postcode lottery, and that clinical staff have the right knowledge and training for treating dying patients with the respect, dignity and compassion they deserve.

‘We also want to take the opportunity to explore the deeper practical and ethical issues around physician-assisted dying, such as the impact on the doctor-patient relationship, which engages with not just doctors but also the public.’ 

BMA policy on these matters is set by its annual representative meeting.

Doctors will be invited at random to participate in the events, selected from within categories that are representative of the overall membership.

The association will use an external organisation to recruit members of the public to ensure a representative selection.

 Find out more about the BMA's views on end-of-life issues