The British Medical Association has resisted pressure by some members to move from opposition to neutrality on assisted suicide. On Wednesday, BMA delegates at their annual conference in Bournmouth rejected a two-part motion. The first declared that “assisted dying is a matter for society and not for the medical profession” and the second that “the BMA should adopt a neutral position” on changing the law. Both lost.
A lobby group within the BMA, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, had forcefully argued for a position of "studied" neutrality. Its head, Raymond Tallis, a polymath who is a novelist and philosopher as well as a doctor, told the conference that the present system was "morally repugnant".
"Those of you who argue that palliative care can address all the problems of all patients are simply ignoring clinical reality. A reality in which some patients seeking an end to their terrible suffering resort to death from dehydration and starvation, botched suicides or dreadful journeys to die abroad. Neutrality is appropriate because the medical profession itself is divided.”
However, it was the arguments like that put forward by the BMA's outgoing chairman of council Hamish Meldrum which prevailed. He said:
"The first part of this motion says that this is a matter for society and not for the medical profession. The medical profession is not only part of society, but it would be members of the medical profession that would have to carry out the wishes of society were there to be a change in the law.
"On (the second part of the motion) it says the BMA should adopt a neutral position on a change in the law. I think adopting a neutral position is probably the worst of all options. Neutrality does tend to exclude us from the argument, an argument which would have a huge bearing on the working lives of doctors.
"I don't come to this from any strong religious view but I do come to these views from having worked as a doctors for 40 years - mostly in general practice - where I have always felt I have been able, in almost every occasion, to support my patients when they were dying without having to actively end their lives."
Independent, June 27;
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