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BMA launches survey to gather members' views on physician-assisted dying

The British Medical Association today begins surveying its members for their views on the Association’s stance on physician-assisted dying.

At last year’s Annual Representative Meeting (ARM),1 BMA members (doctors and medical students) voted to instruct the BMA to carry out the poll.

Members2 will be asked whether they believe the BMA should support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to end their own life.3 They will also be similarly asked about a stance to a change in the law to permit doctors to administer drugs with the intention of ending an eligible patient’s life.

The poll also asks about their personal opinions, the reasons behind them, and about how the BMA should respond in the event of any future proposals to change the law.

The BMA’s current policy position, which has stood since 2006, is to oppose assisted dying in all forms.

The results of the survey will not determine BMA policy. Rather, they will feed into a subsequent debate at this year’s ARM in June4 about the BMA’s position. Unless and until a decision is made at ARM to change its position, the BMA’s current policy of opposing a change in the law will remain.

Dr John Chisholm, BMA Medical Ethics Committee chair, said:

“Physician-assisted dying is an extremely sensitive issue that understandably ignites a broad range of strong personal views across both the general public and the medical profession.

“Doctors and medical students have a particular interest in discussions around legislation because any change in the law would impact on them not just personally but professionally. Therefore, this poll will allow us to gather information about the breadth of views held by our membership, which will then inform any future policy decisions and how we respond to any proposals for a change in the law.”

Dr Helena McKeown, BMA Representative Body Chair, said:

“The BMA represents doctors and medical students across the UK, and it’s imperative that the views of all of our members are heard and considered in the development of policy on this very important topic.

“Following an in-depth and thought-provoking debate at last year’s ARM, this survey now gives us the unique opportunity to garner the widest range of views from our members. We’re asking every member to please make the time to take part in our survey, so as to ensure we have the best debate we can in June.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The ARM is the BMA’s main policy-making body. At the 2019 ARM in Belfast the following motion was passed:
    That this meeting notes the recent decision by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying after surveying the views of its members, and:
    i)supports patient autonomy and good quality end of life care for all patients;
    ii)recognises that not all patient suffering can be alleviated;
    iii) calls on the BMA to carry out a poll of its members to ascertain their views on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying.
  2. From today all BMA members will receive an email. The BMA has approximately 160,000 members across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The poll is being carried out by an external company and will run until 27 February.
  3. Members will be asked whether they believe the BMA should actively support, actively oppose, or neither actively support nor actively oppose (take a neutral stance on) a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to self-administer to end their own life. They will also be asked whether the BMA should actively support, actively oppose, or neither actively support nor actively oppose (take a neutral stance on) a change in the law to permit doctors to administer drugs with the intention of ending an eligible patient’s life.
  4. Results from the survey will be published ahead of the ARM, which takes place in Edinburgh from 21 to 25 June.
  5. Find more information on the BMA’s policy on physician-assisted dying and the survey, and access briefing materials at www.bma.org.uk/pad

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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