A small group of medics have launched a campaign to weaken the law on assisted suicide, but such moves are firmly opposed by the British Medical Association (BMA).
Calling themselves Healthcare Professionals for Change (HPC), the small group want to legalise assisted suicide for those with a terminal illness.
But HPC’s position also goes against the line taken by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Geriatrics Society, which are not in favour of assisted suicide.
The BMA, which has 145,000 members, says it is “fundamentally opposed to any change in the law”.
Speaking last month Tony Calland, Chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, warned: “Once the rubicon is crossed to change the law to allow the knowing and premeditated hastening of the death of another person, we can never go back.
Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said a “clear majority” of its members did not support any change in the law when asked in 2008.
A spokesman for the pro-life Care Not Killing alliance said the new medical group does not represent “mainstream conventional medical beliefs” and was made up of only a “tiny minority” of health professionals.
The British Geriatrics Society (BGS), which offers “specialist medical expertise” for the health care needs of older people, is also opposed to assisted suicide.
The BGS says: “If assisted suicide were to be legally sanctioned, the lives of vulnerable people would be threatened and some would feel pressure to give up their lives to reduce the burden they cause to others.
“Such a measure would also seriously diminish the ethical code of physicians and is incompatible with the role of doctor as healer.”
Dr Ann McPherson, who launched HPC, is also a Patron of pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying.
Dr McPherson said: “Alongside access to good-quality end-of-life care we believe that terminally ill, mentally competent patients should be able to choose an assisted death, subject to safeguards.”
Efforts in Scotland to change the law on assisted suicide, with Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, have been met with firm resistance.
In July a leading doctor warned that a Bill which would legalise assisted suicide would betray “Scottish values” for the benefit of a vocal few.
Dr Rosemary Barrett, Director of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, cautioned: “Passing the Bill would clash with our historic standards of caring for the whole of society, not simply submitting to a vocal and influential few.”
In June over 14,000 people signed a Care Not Killing alliance petition against Mrs MacDonald’s Bill.
Also in June it emerged that 86 per cent of respondents to a public consultation were opposed to the Bill.