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Care Not Killing welcomes BMA decision to oppose any change of law on assisted suicide

more: Medical Opinion, Opinion, Medical Opinion/Opinion

1st July 2009

Care Not Killing welcomes BMA decision to oppose any change of law on assisted suicide

The Care not Killing Alliance, representing almost 50 organisations, has welcomed today's British Medical Association decision to oppose any legalisation of assistance with suicide. The BMA, at its annual representative meeting in Liverpool, has voted overwhelmingly to reject a motion calling for support for a change in the law in the light of recent high profile cases such as that of Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy.

The vote comes as the House of Lords is about to vote on a hugely controversial amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill by Lord Falconer which would allow relatives assisting people who are terminally ill and able to make a declaration to end their lives at suicide facilities like Dignitas in Switzerland to escape investigation or prosecution.

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 Parliament, both Westminster and Holyrood, not to tamper with the present law. This is hugely significant as it comes in the same week as a similar warning from senior legal figures who in a letter to the Times last Monday have called the Falconer amendment 'ill-defined, unsound and unnecessary' and said that its provisions are 'lacking in rigour and would fail to protect vulnerable sick people from unscrupulous coercion and abuse'.

The current law is clear and right. It has both a stern face to deter would-be abusers and a kind heart to enable judges to exercise compassion in hard cases. Despite a sustained media campaign built around a small number of high-profile cases by Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) the demand for assisted suicide in Britain remains very small indeed.

Over the last ten years, despite not a single prosecution, only 115 Britons have traveled to Switzerland to kill themselves representing less than one in 50,000 deaths over the same period. Changing the law for a few determined individuals would put a much larger number of vulnerable people at risk.

Doctors who deal with the terminally and chronically ill recognize their vulnerability and need for legal protection and believe that the real answer is more and better care and support for patients and their families. It is highly significant that the BMA has already voted this week to make the very best palliative care much more widely accessible.

At a time of economic recession with imminent health cuts, growing numbers of elderly people, and increasing levels of elder abuse the very last thing we need is to put vulnerable people, many of whom already think they are a financial or emotional burden to relatives, carers and the state, under pressure to end their lives by making assisted suicide or euthanasia a cheap and legal 'treatment' option.

Last Monday in the Guardian the RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field, the RCP ethics chair Professor John Saunders and the BMA ethics chair Dr Tony Calland expressed their serious concern about the number of British people suffering from non-terminal diseases, with in some cases decades of life expectancy, who are already killing themselves at the Dignitas suicide facility in Switzerland .The Journal of Medical Ethics reported last year that one in five patients dying there were not terminally ill and individual cases of people dying there with chronic disease, severe disability, depression and in some cases bereavement alone are now well documented.

By rejecting this motion today the BMA has affirmed its longstanding opposition to a change in the law and has chosen to stand with the RCP, the RCGP, the RCN and the two thirds of doctors who consistently say in all opinion polls that they do not wish the law to change.


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Why assisted suicide has no place in the UK
Doctors oppose legal protection for assisted suicide relatives
Doctors say threat of prosecution should stay over assisted suicides
British Medical Association

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