BMA advises families to trawl social media to see if sick relatives want to die

New guidance from the British Medical Association (BMA) advises searching the old online content of patients on life-support, to see if they want to die.

The BMA said that emails and social media posts could contain evidence that a seriously ill patient would prefer not to live with a disease or brain injury leaving them totally dependent.

Dr Max Pemberton, a member of the BMA, said the organisation was trying to introduce “euthanasia by stealth” and had “lost the plot”.

One post

The BMA advice tells those close to the patient that their role “is to provide the decision-maker with information about the patient”.

This could include what the patient has written down “on social media or in e-mails, for example”.

Dr Pemberton said: “To put it starkly, one Facebook post might be enough to bring about your death.”

“What I wouldn’t want is some doctor deciding to flip the switch or pull a tube because of something I’d once written in an email.”


Steve Fouch, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, called for the advice to be scrapped.

He said: “It ignores the latest medical evidence on how difficult it is to accurately diagnose the level of brain damage of our patients and long-term prognosis.”

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Complex situations

Arguing how people change their minds “all the time”, Pemberton added, “our digital histories are littered with things we no longer believe and express feelings we no longer have.”

“So how on earth can some careless posts taken out of context on social media, or flippant emails, possibly be assumed to be real reflections of what we think or feel in a specific, complex life-and-death situation?”

Dr Pemberton concluded: “It is utterly perverse that while we are incredibly wary of assisted dying in this country precisely because of the risk of vulnerable people, these guidelines have been produced without any seeming awareness of how they might also be misused in certain situations.”

The advice follows a test case in 2017, in which a High Court judge said that a 72-year-old woman in a minimally conscious state should be allowed to die because of an email she sent to her daughter in 2013.

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