27 June 2012
Doctors and medical students decided to maintain their opposition to legalising assisted dying.
The meeting decided not to move to a position of neutrality and also rejected a call to say that assisted dying was a matter for society and not for the medical profession.
Professor Tallis comments on the vote
Retired Manchester consultant in geriatric medicine Raymond Tallis spoke in favour of changing the BMA stance.
He emphasised that ‘neutrality did not imply indifference’ and ‘the medical profession must retain a central role in ensuring and defining safeguards’.
Professor Tallis said guidelines made it clear that doctors and nurses who helped with assisted dying will currently be prosecuted.
‘Assistance is therefore delegated to amateurs, who have to take on a dreadful responsibility at a time when they are already greatly distressed and may well be incompetent to carry it out,’ he said.
Oxford medical student Tom Henderson also called on representatives to ‘have a bit of courage’ on the issue. He said: ‘It is a complex one and a position of neutrality allows us to deal with both sides of the argument.’
ARM reps give their views on the vote
But BMA Welsh junior doctors committee chair Dai Samuel opposed a change of policy and said representatives had to question what they, as doctors, stood for.
He insisted: ‘I do not consider the killing of patients, for whatever reason, is justified.’
And Leeds medical student Rebecca Briscoe argued the issue was one of trust between doctors and their patients.
She insisted: ‘Taking a neutral stance on the issue of physician-assisted dying breaches that trust. It places the patient safety solely in the hands of politicians.’
Cardiff consultant in palliative medicine Baroness Finlay maintained that assisted dying was a matter for the medical profession because what was being discussed at the meeting was physician-assisted suicide.
She cited evidence from other countries that showed that ‘legalisation brings normalisation’. Professor Finlay added: ‘Neutrality does not bring balance to the debate. It will tell Parliament that we see this as an acceptable option.’
BMA medical ethics committee chair Tony Calland continued this argument as he urged representatives to maintain the status quo.
He warned: ‘A change from our current position of opposing a change in the law to one of neutrality will be seen as removing objections. It would be seen as a green light.’
If a parliamentary bill were to be tabled shortly afterwards, Dr Calland warned that the BMA would not be able to pass any reasonable comment because of its neutral stance.