The British Medical Association (BMA) has abandoned its support for end-of-life protections in the UK.
Today, at the association’s annual meeting, delegates backed a motion to adopt a ‘neutral’ stance on assisted suicide by 149 votes to 145 – there were eight abstentions.
At its conference in 2005, the BMA had previously voted to end its opposition to a change in the law on assisted suicide, but the decision was overturned the following year.
Speaking against the proposal today, palliative care expert Baroness Finlay of Llandaff described ‘neutrality’ as a “fig leaf”, arguing that it would only serve as a “precursor” to legalisation.
Lady Finlay also feared that ending people’s lives would become “routine” and that conscience clauses that allow doctors to decline being involved in the process would be eroded over time.
Medical ethicist and former palliative care registrar Dr Gillian Wright said the motion was in fact about “approval for euthanasia”.
Others questioned whether the change in policy was truly representative, since in a recent BMA poll only 21 per cent of members expressed support for ‘neutrality’.
Last year, the Royal College of General Practitioners maintained its opposition to legalising assisted suicide following a survey of its members.
The independent survey of 6,674 members found that 47 per cent said the College should oppose a change in the law on assisted suicide, as against 40 per cent who said it should support it.
Under the current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a person who intentionally encourages or assists the suicide or attempted suicide of another person commits an offence which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
In 2015, a Bill to remove current safeguards was soundly defeated in the House of Commons by 330 votes to 118.