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BMA poll shows mixed views on Assisted Dying

more: Press Releases, Medical Opinion, Press Releases/Medical Opinion

8th October 2020

Care Not Killing notes the results of the British Medical Association poll showing mixed views on Assisted Dying

Date: Thursday 8th October 2020

Release time: Immediate

Regarding the findings of the British Medical Association's consultation on assisted suicide and euthanasia ('assisted dying'), published today.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing commented:

'We note the results of the British Medical Association poll on assisted dying.

'We will continue to study the results of the poll, but it is clear that, as in recent similar surveys, we are seeing strongest opposition to changing the law from those medics actually working most closely with terminally ill, elderly and disabled patients, compared to those who work in other non-related fields.

'These doctors are concerned about the discriminatory message that singling out terminally ill and disabled people would send. As Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said, 'Legalising assisted suicide will only serve to reinforce deep seated prejudices that the lives of sick and disabled people aren't worth as much as other people's'.

'Once again there appears to be a difference between practising and non-practising doctors. The largest percentage of those doctors at the coal face of caring for the elderly and terminally ill, who work in Palliative Care, Geriatric Medicine and General Practice continue to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia, whereas retired doctors and those who have never practiced medicine because they are students or do not hold a license to practice, remain more supportive. Indeed, 70% of Palliative Care doctors opposed the BMA supporting a change in the law to allow physician assisted suicide and 44% of geriatricians were opposed to the BMA supporting assisted suicide whilst only 27% were in favour. Some 40% of GPs opposed BMA support for physician assisted suicide whilst only 34% were in favour of it.

'Moreover, the survey shows that the largest group of doctors opposes the BMA supporting the legalisation of euthanasia. Of those who responded to the survey, 40% want to oppose, whilst only 30% voted for support, in relation to the BMA's stance on euthanasia.'

Dr Macdonald continued:

'We welcome the fact that many active medics have repeatedly rejected the mendacious claims made by those pushing for this change, namely that legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia can be done with safeguards and would not put pressure, real or perceived, on vulnerable people to end their lives prematurely.

'They have seen what happens in the small number of jurisdictions that have gone down this dangerous path - places like Oregon and Washington. These two US states are held up as the model to copy, but in both, a majority of those opting to end their lives cite fear of being a burden as among their key reasons, and others talk about financial concerns. While the list of conditions that qualify for the lethal cocktail of barbiturates continues to grow, some experts have warned that allowing assisted dying might also be normalising suicide in the general population. Suicide rates are, after all, a third higher in Oregon than the US average.

'In Canada, last year a Court struck down the requirement that a person be terminally ill before they qualify for euthanasia. This followed the case of Alan Nichols, a former school caretaker who was physically healthy, but struggled with depression. His life was ended by lethal injection in July. Roger Foley, meanwhile, was repeatedly offered the drugs to kill himself, while being denied the social care to live a dignified life, due to the cost.

'Closer to home, we see how laws introduced in the Netherlands or Belgium, which were supposed to be limited to mentally competent terminally ill adults, have been extended to non-mentally competent adults and children, profoundly disabled people, and even those with treatable psychiatric problems such as depression and anorexia.'

Dr Macdonald concluded:

'A recent report published in the Journal of Clinical Ethics suggested that legalising assisted suicide could release cost savings and an increase in organs available for transplant.

'The current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives. They protect those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion and those who care for them who might come under pressure to conserve scarce resources. They do not need changing.'

For media inquiries, please call 07970 162225.


Editors Notes

Care Not Killing is a UK-based alliance bringing together over 40 organisations - human rights and disability rights organisations, health care and palliative care groups, faith-based organisations groups - and thousands of concerned individuals.

We have three key aims:

  • to promote more and better palliative care;
  • to ensure that existing laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are not weakened or repealed;
  • to inform public opinion further against any weakening of the law.

*As this story is dealing with suicide, please could we ask that you include details about organisations that offer help and support to vulnerable people who might be feeling suicidal such as the Samaritans, CALM or similar - Thank you.*

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