The Guardian

BMA drops its opposition to assisted dying in narrow vote

- Andrew Gregory Health editor

The British Medical Associatio­n (BMA) has dropped its opposition to assisted dying and adopted a neutral stance on the issue. The doctors’ union, which represents about 150,000 medics, voted to change its official position following a debate by members at its annual representa­tive meeting in London. It had opposed legalising assisted dying since 2006.

Campaigner­s seeking a change in the law welcomed the “historic milestone” and said it could help pave the way towards a change in the law.

Some 49% of the BMA’s representa­tive body voted in favour of a motion for it to move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying, including physician-assisted dying, with 48% against it and 3% abstaining.

The union, one of Britain’s most influentia­l medical bodies, said that while the decision meant it would neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law, it would not be silent on the issue.

The BMA also insisted doctors must have legally protected rights to conscienti­ously object to participat­ing should there be a change in law in the UK. It passed a second motion calling for “robust conscience rights” to be included in any future legislatio­n on assisted dying in the UK, meaning healthcare workers should be able to conscienti­ously object to participat­ing in assisted dying.

The dramatic shift in policy follows a BMA survey in 2020 which found for the first time that doctors in support of a law change outnumbere­d those against. The poll, which heard from almost 29,000 doctors and medical students, showed that 50% personally believed doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves – 39% opposed this and 11% were undecided.

“Assisted dying is a highly emotive and sensitive topic that inspires a broad spectrum of views and opinions both across the wider public and among the medical profession, for whom any change of law would have a profound impact,” said Dr John Chisholm, BMA’s medical ethics committee chair, after the vote.

Campaign groups seeking a change in the law welcomed the move. Dignity in Dying’s chief executive, Sarah Wootton, said: “This is a historic decision and a victory for common sense.

“It brings the BMA in line with a growing number of medical bodies in the UK and around the world that truly represent the range of views that healthcare profession­als hold on assisted dying.”

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