BMA surveys members on its assisted dying stance for first time

The BMA is asking members what stance it should take on physician-assisted dying for the first time in a survey that launched today.

(Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)
(Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

The BMA is currently opposed to assisted dying in all forms – a position it has held since 2006. The survey, which covers all four UK countries, is the first time it has asked all of its almost 160,000 members for their views on the issue.

The results of the poll will not actually change BMA policy, but they will feed into a debate at the association's annual representative meeting (ARM) in June where delegates will vote on whether the BMA should change its stance.

The survey will ask members if the BMA should support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on whether the law should change to allow doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to end their own lives.

They will also be asked if the BMA should support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on whether the law should change to allow doctors to administer the drugs that would allow an eligible patient to end their life.

Assisted dying

The RCGP conducted a similar exercise at the end of last year. The college is also currently opposed to assisted dying and the results of its consultation on whether it should change this position are due to be released later this month after its next council meeting.

A survey by campaign group Diginity in Dying last year found that 55% of GPs think that organisations like the RCGP and BMA should adopt a neutral stance on whether the law on assisted dying should change. More than 1,000 GPs took part in the poll and only a third said medical organisations should oppose a change in the law.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) adopted a neutral position on assisted dying last year, while the Royal College of Nursing has held a neutral stance on the issue since 2009.

In the RCP's poll last year, 43% of members thought it should oppose a change in the law on assisted dying, 32% said it should support a change in the law and 25% thought it should remain neutral.

The BMA's medical ethics committee chair Dr John Chisholm 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.'

Important step

Dr Jacky Davis, chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, said: 'This survey is an important step for the BMA and means that members will be able to express their views on this historic issue.

'As demonstrated by the RCP poll last year, it is becoming clear that there is a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policy of medical organisations needs to reflect that.

'Politicians and patients want to know what doctors think on this issue and we need all views to be heard. Our patients have wanted this choice for decades and we should be pleased that doctors are prepared to engage in the debate.'

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