In an historic decision, the British Medical Association has voted not to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Delegates at the BMA's annual conference agreed that legal sanctions were primarily a matter for society and for Parliament". The move is sure to boost the chances of a private bill introduced by Lord Joffe last year to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. However the BMA still supports the right of conscientious objectors so that doctors who oppose euthanasia would be able to abide by their principles.
The BMA was less adventurous on abortion. It voted against a call to reduce the legal time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks to reflect the earlier viability of the foetus. Dr John McQueen, a doctor supporting the motion, said that in the past babies born at 28 weeks usually died. Some babies now survive at 23 weeks, although often with some disabilities. Nearly 3,000 abortions of 20 to 24- week-old babies were performed in Britain in 2003.
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