British Doctors Group Restores Opposition to Assisted Suicide by 2-1 Vote

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 4, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Doctors Group Restores Opposition to Assisted Suicide by 2-1 Vote Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 4, 2006

London, England ( — The British Medical Association reversed its position on assisted suicide and restored its long-standing opposition to the practice. Last June, the medical organization dropped its opposition to assisted suicide and adopted a "neutral" stance on the issue.

At its annual conference last week, the doctors group voted by almost a two to one margin to restore its old position against the practice. The group represents about 135,000 physicians in England and its change of position comes after the British parliament defeated a bill to legalize assisted suicide.

The vote puts the group in line with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Physicians — which all opposed the bill.

About 500 BMA members were present at the annual conference from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they voted by a 65 to 35 percent margin to restore the group’s position against helping patients kill themselves.

A poll of the group also found that 94 percent opposed legalizing involuntary euthanasia and 84 percent believed improvements in palliative care would best help disabled and elderly patients dealing with end of life issues.

"This is a fantastic result for the many organizations campaigning against euthanasia,” said Dr. Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing. “It means that the medical profession in the UK is now firmly united in its opposition to any form of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.”

"Their verdict – that we need better palliative care for the terminally ill – sends a clear message that what we need to do is to kill the pain and not the patient,” he said.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, told AP she was distressed by the BMA vote and accused pro-life and religious groups of pressuring doctors to approve the position change resolution.

"Millions of people in the U.K. will be deeply disappointed at what the religious lobby groups have done," she said. "The BMA must now engage on a doctrinaire basis in this debate instead of a neutral and professional one."

Dr. Evan Harris, a British Parliament member from the opposition Liberal Democrat party who introduced the measure last year that prompted the one-year neutral stance, told AP he would keep working to get the BMA to back off its opposition to assisted suicide.

A January survey found that British doctors used euthanasia to kill nearly 3,000 patients in 2004. The poll also found that British doctors do not want to see the legalization of assisted suicide.

Brunel University surveyed 857 doctors and found that thousands of deaths in 2004 were the result of illegal euthanasia.

The survey found that, of the 584,791 deaths in the UK in 2004, 936 were by voluntary euthanasia and 1,930 involved the doctor killing the patient without the patient’s consent.

None of the doctors in the poll said they had been involved in an assisted suicide and just 2.6 percent of the physicians surveyed said it would be beneficial to change the law to allow it.