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British Medical Association launches first ever survey on assisted dying

Dignity in Dying

3 min read Partner content

The British Medical Association (BMA) will today (Thursday 6 February 2020) launch its first ever survey of members on assisted dying. The survey, which will go out to the BMA’s 160,000 members, will be the largest poll of doctors’ views on assisted dying to date in the UK.

The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, despite never having surveyed its members for their views on the issue. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a membership survey in 2019. The results of a recent poll by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are due to be released later this month.

The BMA’s decision to survey its members for their views on assisted dying follows a debate at its Annual Representative Meeting in June 2019. Dr Jacky Davis, Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, introduced the following motion, all parts of which were passed by the BMA’s Representative Body:

That this meeting notes the recent decision by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying after surveying the views of its members, and:-

·         supports patient autonomy and good quality end of life care for all patients;

·         recognises that not all patient suffering can be alleviated;

·         calls on the BMA to carry out a poll of its members to ascertain their views on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying.

Dr Jacky Davis 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.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying:

“This survey is a welcome move which shows maturity and pragmatism. For many years, the BMA’s opposition has been interpreted as most doctors being opposed to assisted dying, despite this claim never being tested against the views of its membership.

“With one Brit travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death every week, 300 terminally ill people ending their own lives in England every year, and many more suffering unbearably against their wishes, it is clear the current law is not working and this issue is not going away. It is vital that medical organisations provide an open and respectful platform for all views to be heard, but we must also ensure that the most important voices – terminally ill people and their loved ones – remain central to this debate.”