Most doctors do not want to play a role in assisting a suicide, it emerged at a British Medical Association (BMA) debate yesterday.
In a blow to the euthanasia lobby, the majority of doctors voted against several motions seeking to liberalise the law.
The motions were introduced by Dr Kailash Chand, a GP and journalist.
He argued that mentally competent patients should have the right to choose assisted suicide and that helping a relative travel to an overseas suicide facility should not be illegal.
However the majority of doctors at the conference overruled his motions, arguing that assisting patients to commit suicide is not part of the “moral ethos or the primary goal of medicine.”
Dr Brian Keighley, Deputy Chairman of the BMA in Scotland said: “It is clear that doctors do not wish to play a role in assisting a patient’s death.”
He continued: “If the legislation were to be changed, it would have serious negative consequences on the relationship between doctors and their patients.”
Dr Chand argued that if the law was tightened, those who had travelled to other countries would be prosecuted.
He said, “If enforced, more than 100 people would by now have been prosecuted. This situation leaves physicians unprotected. The fear of prosecution hangs over the heads of all concerned.”
But Professor Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dying well, said “The current law works well. It has a stern face and a kind heart. The stern face deters coercion.”
She added: “The current law works on a case by case basis. As it stands, it is compassionate. Is there a problem?”
The Care Not Killing alliance, which represents almost 50 organisations, welcomed BMA’s decision.
Care Not Killing Director Dr Peter Saunders said, “British doctors do not want any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia and today they have sent a strong signal to Parliament not to tamper with the present law.”
In February a survey of 460 GPs found that more than 60 per cent wanted assisted suicide to remain illegal.