The British Medical Association (BMA) dropped its opposition to physician-assisted dying after a landmark vote.
Members of the UK’s largest doctors union voted to take a neutral stance on physician-assisted dying, with 49% in favor, 48% against and 3% abstaining.
The BMA said the decision means it will neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law.
He will not, however, remain silent on the issue, saying he has “a responsibility to represent the interests and concerns of its members in any future legislative proposal”.
In a previous survey, 40% of members said the BMA should support calls for changes to the law regarding prescribing drugs to eligible patients to end their lives.
Some 21% were in favor of a neutral position and 33% wanted to oppose such changes.
Half of the nearly 30,000 members said doctors should be legally allowed to prescribe life-ending drugs, with 39% opposing and 11% undecided.
But 40% felt the BMA should oppose attempts to change the law to allow doctors to actually administer life-ending drugs, while 30% wanted to support such a move and 23% wanted a neutral stance. .
At the BMA’s annual meeting of representatives, some members warned that a neutral stance on assisted dying would be seen as “tacit” approval of euthanasia.
Dr Gillian Wright said: “This motion is really about euthanasia. The BMA defines physician-assisted dying as assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“We know that neutrality means tacit approval and has enormous political significance.”
But Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, told the PA news agency: “There are clearly some doctors who think this amounts to tacit support. I do not believe that.
“I believe that neutrality, which is the policy of the BMA now, allows us to continue to strongly represent the concerns, views and interests of our members without actually taking a stand for or against a proposed law change. . “
Dignity in Dying Managing Director Sarah Wootton welcomed the move to a neutral stance, saying: “This is a historic decision and a victory for common sense.
“This brings the BMA closer to a growing number of medical organizations in the UK and around the world that truly represent the range of views of healthcare professionals on physician-assisted dying.”
But Care Not Killing chief executive Dr Gordon Macdonald said: “We are understandably disappointed with the adversarial nature of this vote as it exposes the gap between physicians caring for dying patients, whether in hospitals or hospices, which oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia; and physicians who work in independent disciplines such as child and adolescent psychiatry and occupational health.
As the BMA’s own investigation revealed, mine doctors who provide care for the elderly and terminally ill, who work in palliative care, geriatric medicine and general medicine, continue to s ‘oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia because they know it isn’t necessary and the subtle pressure it could put on patients to end their lives prematurely. “
The BMA’s representative body also passed a motion calling for the inclusion of “strong conscience rights” in any future legislation on physician-assisted dying in the UK.
This means that healthcare workers should be able to oppose participation in physician-assisted dying.