The British Medical Journal wants doctors to end their opposition to assisted suicide, but critics say it would put vulnerable patients at risk.
The BMJ is one of Britain’s leading medical journals, and its editor has called for doctors groups to adopt a ‘neutral’ stance.
But other doctors have urged fellow professionals to stand firm and continue to protect elderly and disabled patients from being pressurised into assisted suicide.
The Care Not Killing Alliance, a coalition of 30 pro-life organisations, said a “carefully orchestrated campaign” was under way to undermine the historic opposition of the medical profession to assisted suicide.
Director, Dr Peter Saunders, said: “This is a carefully orchestrated move by a small minority of doctors with extreme views aimed at neutralising medical opposition and softening up public and parliamentary opinion in advance of new pressure to change the law.”
He said a change in the law “would place pressure on vulnerable, sick, elderly and disabled people to end their lives for fear of being a financial or emotional burden on loved ones” which is “the very last thing we need” at a time when many families “are already under considerable financial pressure”.
The journal, owned by the British Medical Association (BMA), backed calls for reforms from pro-euthanasia group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD).
In an editorial, BMJ editor-in-chief, Fiona Godlee, argued that “legislation is a decision for society not doctors” so medical bodies should be neutral.
She drew parallels with abortion legislation in the 1960s which was initially opposed by medical bodies.
The editorial, along with a series of articles, come ahead of the BMA’s annual policy-making meeting where they will debate whether to adopt a neutral position on assisted suicide.
The BMA said the views expressed in the journal “may not necessarily comply with BMA policy”.
A spokesperson said the organisation was “firmly opposed” to the legalisation of assisted suicide, adding: “If assisted dying was legalised, effective safeguards could not be implemented without the involvement of doctors. It is therefore appropriate for doctors to voice their views on this issue.”
In February the leader of the General Medical Council, Niall Dickson, said assisted suicide “is illegal and doctors should have no part of it”.
His comments came as the GMC, the regulatory authority for doctors, launched a consultation on its first ever guidance on assisted suicide.