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Doctors oppose assisted suicide

more: Medical Opinion, Opinion, Medical Opinion/Opinion

12th December 2005

The medical profession has always been historically opposed to euthanasia and the vast majority of doctors still are. The Hippocratic Oath says, 'I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest such counsel.'

Medical opposition to PAS and euthanasia was affirmed by the World Medical Association in the 1992 Statement of Marbella, and significantly reaffirmed in May 2005 at the WMA 170th Council Session at Divonne-Les-Bains, France. The WMA statement is forthright and unambiguous: 'Physician-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically.'

The majority of doctors in the UK remain opposed to assisted dying and medical opposition has actually intensified in recent years. The largest most recent surveys show only 22-38% of doctors in favour of a change in the law. This was made very clear to the recent House of Lords Select Committee examining Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

A recent and much-publicised vote at the BMA annual conference to adopt a position of neutrality towards any future bill was unrepresentative of the Association's 134,000 members. It was carried by a very narrow majority (93 votes to 82) at a barely quorate meeting on the last day of the conference when over half of the delegates had either left or were otherwise engaged.

The RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners), which initially took a neutral position on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in giving evidence to the Lords Select Committee in October 2004, abandoned this in response to feedback from frontline doctors. After a lengthy consultation seeking the views of members, in which responses were overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting a change in the law, the RCGP Council on 16 September 2005 passed the following motion: 'The RCGP believes that with current improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within the existing guidelines and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed.'

The Association Palliative Medicine, the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh also remain opposed to euthanasia.

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