Viewpoint: Why the BMA should fund a secular meeting for reflection

Dr Antony Lempert, of the Secular Medical Forum, believes the BMA should give equal funding for a secular meeting for reflection at its annual representatives' meeting (ARM) in Bournemouth on Sunday as it does to a faith-based one.

The BMA traditionally organised and funded an act of worship before the start of the ARM. Asked to account for council’s authorisation to use members’ funds for faith-based events, the BMA replied: ‘Lost in the mists of time’. Over the years worship changed from being specifically Church of England to multi-faith ‘reflection and thanksgiving’ ostensibly open to all BMA representatives. Yet it is still referred to in some literature as a ‘reflection and thanksgiving service’ (RATS).

BMA policy is not to discriminate against patients or members, ‘irrespective of… religion or belief. Members with no faith or no desire to express a faith may attend RATS but may feel excluded.

The Secular Medical Forum (SMF) is a non-profit organisation challenging religious privilege and harm in healthcare. The SMF does not seek to prevent the RATS and has written to the BMA executive requesting equal funding and publicity for a secular meeting for reflection; this has been refused. Meanwhile, the SMF itself has organised and funded secular meetings on libel reform (with Simon Singh) and dishonesty in medicine (with Peter Wilmshurst). The 2012 secular meeting will reflect on assisted dying with Professor Raymond Tallis, chairman of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, and Baroness Ilora Finlay, professor of palliative care. The BMA refuses to publicise the SMF event on the grounds that it clashes with a BMA-organised event. As such, the BMA is acting contrary to BMA anti-discrimination policy.

Motions to debate this have been sidelined in 2011 and again in 2012. SMF calls on the BMA to implement its own policy and to organise, fund and publicise a meeting for reflection for all BMA members, whether they wish to give ‘thanks’ or not.

The SMF meeting to reflect on assisted dying is from 17:30 to 18:45 on Sunday 24 June at the de Vere Royal Bath Hotel Bournemouth; all welcome. Please contact Dr Antony Lempert for details or 07967 837041

The BMA was contacted to respond to this Viewpoint but declined to.

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