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Doctors reject liberalisation of assisted suicide policy

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Doctors reiterated their opposition to assisted suicide, at their annual conference, on Wednesday.

Delegates at the British Medical Association's (BMA) Annual Representative Meeting in Northern Ireland debated the issue after a motion calling on the organisation to adopt a neutral stance was put forward.

But doctors, representing BMA's 170,000 members, voted 198 to 115 to reject the proposal, tabled as motion 80 on the agenda.

The vote means the BMA's current stance on assisted suicide, which "opposes all forms of assisted dying" and supports the current legal position which "allows compassionate and ethical care for the dying", will stand.

'Public mistrust'

A consultation by the BMA ahead of the vote found that many doctors were concerned that helping people to die went against their fundamental role of saving lives.

Dr Andrew Mowat, who agreed with this stance, argued that a change in the BMA's stance should not be debated. He indicated that "the thought of doctors killing patients creates public mistrust of us."

Dr Mowat also said that the BMA should start thinking about how to "improve the care of vulnerable patients". Dr Mark Pickering argued similarly, that calls for BMA neutrality were part of a 'long term strategy' to remove its influence on Parliament.

Legalisation increases euthanasia requests

Dr Jacqueline Davis, Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, arguing for motion 80, said that there was 'no evidence of a slippery slope' in Oregon. However, a number of doctors pointed to evidence of an incremental extension once assisted suicide is legalised. Dr William Sadwell, in particular, pointed out that Belgium had recently legalised child euthanasia.

Many doctors also noted that the question of assisted suicide was continuing to be brought before the BMA by lobbyists determined to get the answer they wanted. Dr Mowat deemed this phenomenon the BMA's "neverendum". In the last ten years the BMA has debated this issue seven times. Whilst it adopted a neutral stance in 2005, this was reversed the next year.

Overwhelming Rejection

The BMA's decision follows Parliament's overwhelming rejection of assisted suicide last September, when the House of Commons rejected Rob Marris' Assisting Dying Bill by a significant margin, 330 votes to 118. 

Related Links: 
End-of-life care and physician-assisted dying (BMA) 
MPs overwhelmingly reject death bill


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